report by Ian Moy and Thierry Letellier


Exercise Pitch Black 2016 is a three week multi-national large force employment exercise conducted from RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal from 29 July to 19 August 2016. 115 aircraft from around the globe were travelling for the exercise including participants from Australia, Canada, France (New Caledonia), Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. Germany and Netherlands sent only observers.

Exercise Pitch Black recognises the strong relationship Australia has with its participant nations and the high value it places on regional security and fostering closer ties throughout the Asia Pacific region. Pitch Black is primarily focused around 2 teams – the Blue and Red Forces. Both have available assets and the Blue Forces aim is to ideally eliminate the Red Force’s air and ground assets. The use of Blue and Red Forces was that it changed daily so sometimes Darwin units would be Blue and next day maybe Red. This approach enabled the combat elements to train for different threat conditions and employ different tactics, while learning and improving on their current training processes. During the mission planning process for each force element, complex scenarios were created for every wave of aircraft that were to be flown, in order to attempt to make Pitch Black simulate the stressful pressures found in war time conditions.

Fast jets participating in Pitch Black include Thai and Indonesian F-16As, Singaporean F-15SGs and F-16Ds, USAF F-16CJs and RAAF Hornets and Super Hornets. Transport aircraft include Canadian and USMC KC-130 Hercules tankers, a Royal Thai Air Force C-130H Hercules and a New Caledonian-based French air force CN-235, as well the RAAF’s KC-30A tanker transport. Support aircraft include a RAAF E-7A Wedgetail and a Singaporean Gulfstream G550 CAEW platform.

The ultimate goal of PB-16 is to provide air forces, land forces and sea forces the stable training platform to operate together as a regional coalition force and to ensure activities of this size, could be done safely and efficiently. This outcome was achieved by focusing on interoperability between all partner countries. This approach enabled all the countries to bring to the exercise their own unique capabilities, to refine and upgrade their training skills and to also learn new skills. Each day and night time mission cycles routinely saw waves of Red and Blue forces take to the skies, departing from both RAAF Darwin and RAAF Tindal. Each mission waves was set out with a mix of types taking off with up to 80 aircraft airborne from the 2 bases, varying from FAC(A) to strike fighters, airborne command and control to tankers.

The end result is the upgrade of training for the forces so if their skills are ever required to be put into use, they can operate in conflicts delivering air power as requested with high efficiency.The other big benefits for countries who have little military or congested civil airspace limitations is that by coming to Pitch Black, they can to train a large range area and to fly in extreme darkness, which may not be able to be done easily back at home in their own ranges

The exercise used  airspace over Bradshaw Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range to practice large formation offensive and counter air and offensive air support operations. The exercise involved  day and night flying from Darwin and Tindal,

Pitch Black Open Day is a free community event held as part of Exercise Pitch Black 2016 at RAAF Base Darwin. This event is a perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the local and international military aircraft and vehicles. It is also a rare opportunity to meet the crews and personnel who fly and operate these machines.