Exercise Pitch Black 2018 is a Royal Australian Air Force-hosted biennial multinational large force employment exercise held from July 27 through Aug. 17.
This year’s event, the largest since its inception, involves 16 nations, 140 aircraft and more than 4,000 personnel — approximately 150 of which call the 8th Fighter Wing from Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, their home.
U.S. Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Pacific Air Forces commander, received an orientation of Exercise Pitch Black 18 and visited with participating Airmen Aug. 13.
“The National Defense Strategy talks about strengthening alliances and attracting new partners,” Brown said. “The Juvats (80th Fighter Squadron) are participating in an exercise with the opportunity to work with other countries’ aircraft and military. It’s a full integration of planning efforts and capabilities, allowing us to really build those relationships so we can continue to work together in the future.”
Exercise PBK18 allows participant nations to exercise deployed units in the tasking, planning and execution of offensive counter-air and offensive air support while using one of the largest training airspace areas in the world – Bradshaw Field Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range.
“The airspace here is about three times the airspace of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, one of our larger airspaces in the United States,” Brown said. “From my personal experience as a command pilot, to have the vast airspace that we do here allows us to bring in a lot more aircraft, and strengthens our pilots’ ability to test their warfighting capabilities.”
Another unique aspect of this year is the exercise is conducted as part of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin initiative, one of two components that comprise a force posture agreement between the two nations and serves as a tangible demonstration of the United States’ sustained commitment to the alliance and the Indo-Pacific region.
“As good as the U.S. Air Force is, each one of these nations has brought a new level of capability to the fight,” Brown said. “As nations come together at Exercise Pitch Black, our allied forces show us how they operate, which will help us improve how we operate.”
The ability to work with U.S. allied nations and partners and expanding capabilities at these bases can give PACAF, especially 8th Fighter Wing Airmen, not only a change of pace, but a better appreciation of their personal capabilities, Brown said.
“Having been a part of the Wolf Pack a few times, I know how hard you exercise,” Brown said, who started his career at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, as a young lieutenant and later served as the wing commander, affectionately known as “the Wolf.” “An off-peninsula exercise like Pitch Black provides the Wolf Pack a different perspective from normal operations, as well as the chance to deploy and employ to different locations.”
For the Air Force as a whole, there’s value to deploying in different locations, Brown said.
“Airmen, no matter what country you’re from, all think alike to an extent,” Brown said. “Through this exercise, we can learn more not only about each other’s Air Force, but about each other and how and where we operate, improving future joint operations.”
Pitch Black began in 1990 as an exercise between Singapore and Australia. This year’s participation includes Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand and the U.S. The exercise includes day and night flying, with participants operating out of both Royal Australian Air Force bases Darwin and Tindal.
In addition to the F-16s from the 80th Fighter Squadron “Juvats,” U.S. aircraft participation includes Air Force and Marine Corps fighters and bombers; refuelers; rotary wing aircraft; and supporting ground forces.
During his visit, Brown also met with various Royal Australian Air Force leadership responsible for directing and supporting the exercise as well as key defense and military leaders over the course of several days in country. The trip was his first since taking command July 26 and provided a firsthand look at not only the U.S. military’s participation in the exercise, but also opportunities to strengthen the U.S.-Australia alliance and the Indo-Pacific region.