MELBOURNE, Australia — Fighter jets from Japan and South Korea are making their debut at a large-scale air combat exercise in northern Australia, along with F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters from the host nation and the United States.
The aircraft and personnel from the U.S. allies will take part in the biennial Exercise Pitch Black alongside that from 15 other nations, making up a force of over 100 aircraft and 2,500 personnel at what the Royal Australian Air Force or RAAF calls its “premier multinational air combat exercise.”
The Japan Air Self Defense Force is taking part with five Mitsubishi F-2s from the service’s 3rd Hikotai normally based at Hyakuri, north of Japan’s capital Tokyo, while South Korea’s Republic of Korea Air Force, or ROKAF, has deployed eight Lockheed-Martin KF-16 Fighting Falcons from the 20th and 38th Fighter Groups based at Seosan and Gunsan, respectively.
Also making its debut at the exercise is the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The host air force is flying the conventional take off and landing F-35A variant, while the Marines are flying 12 F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing aircraft drawn from both its Japan-based squadrons.
They will join Germany’s Luftwaffe in taking part at Pitch Black for the first time. The European country has sent six Eurofighters to the IndoPacific in the first deployment of its kind.
Pitch Black 2022 officially kicked off last Friday and will run to September 8 over the large expanses of unrestricted airspace of Australia’s Northern Territory and will involve large force employment of coalition air power in various scenarios.
The other nations who have sent aircraft to the exercise include France, India, Indonesia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, with most aircraft operating out of the RAAF bases of Darwin and Tindal.
These include the largest contingent of tankers from the widest number of operators to be seen at a Pitch Black event, with Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports from Australia, France, NATO, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom performing air-to-air refueling
“Air to air refueling is a force multiplier, providing essential reach to our combat aircraft. Working with many of the participating nations aims to increase our force projection and maximize our capability,” said Exercise Commander Air Commodore Tim Alsop of the RAAF.
He added that the return of Exercise Pitch Black after a break of four years due to the pandemic marked an excellent opportunity to strengthen partnerships and to promote regional stability.
“With 16 nations participating, Exercise Pitch Black is an excellent opportunity for RAAF to work with our allies and partners, sharing tactics and procedures that will enhance interoperability between our forces.”
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.