RAAF Exercise Pitch Black 2016: Preparing for the High End Fight


2016-08-07 Currently, Second Line of Defense is in Australia and participating in the upcoming Williams Foundation seminar on air-sea integration.

Initial interviews have been conducted at Amberley and Williamtown airbases and provide updates on the C-17, KC-30A and Wedgetail roles and evolutions within the RAAF and its global operations.

Many of the planes at the two airbases are involved in Pitch Black 2016 with a small footprint of airframes currently at the two bases.

Pitch Black 2016 is a high end combat exercise in which the RAAF air crews learn to work together and with partner nations in shaping a successfully outcome. 

This will be especially demanding in the years ahead as the new aircraft are either multi-mission or multi-tasking aircraft designed to support multi-dimension operations, rather than classic air-to-air or air-to-ground operations.

This means that there is a significant expansion of the aperture with which pilots will have to operate in contributing to joint operations in the extended battlespace.

For example, in the case of Wedgetail as it plays its role in battle management in the joint space, the customers are much broader than if they were simply an AWACS replacement.

The AWACS customer base are clearly fighters and supporting elements.

As Wedgetail evolves (and this is what one does with a software upgradeable aircraft), its role in supporting the ground and naval forces is expanding as well.

This means the crews need to train and operate differently.

Currently,Wedgetail through its Virtual Wedgetail facility is working with the Aussie Army, the Aussie Navy and coalition partners in evolving its contribution to the joint battlespace.

This may well mean that Australia will need to consider who and how best to proceed with high end exercises, notably when the F-35 and P-8/Triton dyad enter the force.

International partners are important for a number of strategic reasons, but the evolution of higher end WARFIGHTING capabilities, not just platforms, may well lead to change with regard to who and how to involve partners in training to fight and prevail in the extended battlespace.

This raises the question of what future Pitch Blacks under the influence of F-35s will look like.

Pitch Black 2016 is, according to the Australian Ministry of Defence, the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest and most complex exercise in 2016.

Exercise Pitch Black is being conducted from RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal from 29 July until 19 August.

This year’s exercise features up to 2500 personnel and 115 aircraft from participating nations including Australia, Canada, French (New Caledonia), Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

Exercise Pitch Black aims to further develop offensive counter air; air-land integration; and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as foster international co-operation with partner forces.

Exercise Pitch Black 2016 is a three week multi-national large force employment exercise which will be conducted from RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal from 29 July to 19 August 2016.

The Northern Territory will host up to 2500 personnel and 115 aircraft from around the globe for the exercise including participants from Australia, Canada, France (New Caledonia), Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States…..

The exercise will use 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 will involve day and night flying from Darwin and Tindal, as well as a number of land elements in each location…..

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.’


An article by Jaryd Stock on Aviation Photo Digest provides as well further details on the exercise.

Pitch Black


Photos in the slideshows above are credited to the Australian Ministry of Defence.

The second slideshow highlights the KC-30A in the exercise.