After several years away, the UK took part in Australia’s first Top End airborne combat exercise, Pitch Black 2022. The UK had previously taken part in Pitch Black 1998, with a single Sentry AEW.1 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft.
This year, the Royal Air Force deployed four BAE Systems Typhoon FGR.4 fighters from No. 6 Squadron to Lossiemouth and a single Airbus Voyager KC.3 from RAF Brize Norton for the exercise. The crews of 10 Sqn and 101 Sqn were initially deployed to Darwin with Voyager, but the former should have returned to the UK shortly after arrival due to urgent operational commitments elsewhere.
“The UK’s contribution to Exercise Pitch Black is designed to be a tangible demonstration of British air power and showcases the UK’s ability to deploy rapidly at long range,” a spokesperson explained. of the RAF in a written statement.
“It also illustrates the UK’s desire to enhance professionalism and improve international military relations for the safe and efficient conduct of air operations with regional and partner nations.”
The deployment of the four Typhoons began from RAF Akrotiri in Cypus, where the aircraft had been part of the RAF’s Operation Shader in the Middle East, and routed via the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Darwin, supported by an RAF A400M Atlas C.1.
“Exercising on this scale and with this complexity is simply not possible in Europe. With 50,000 square miles of training area, alongside a variety of different aircraft, with support from air-to-air tankers and E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft, we are able to test us in scenarios that reflect close to real-world combined air operations,” explained 6 Squadron Commanding Officer Wing Commander Noel Rees.
“The first week (of Pitch Black) saw us conduct Fighter Integration Training (FIT) with other nations prior to the Large Force Employment (LFE) phase in weeks two and three. Here we were both Red and Blue Air on different sorties and exercised our Typhoons in a number of different air-to-air and air-to-ground roles,” Wing Commander Rees said in response to ADM‘s questions.
“Although the exercise may not have been classified, we were still able to operate near full capacity in the cockpit, as many other countries could have done. Classification certainly does not prevent us from practicing our interoperability with 16 other nations on Pitch Black 22.
“With the UK Typhoon being a multi-role and rotation capable fighter, we were able to test our skills in a number of different mission sets. This, added to the pure performance of the aircraft, meant we could be used in roles other fighters couldn’t, plus our datalink capability allowed us to seamlessly integrate alongside the F-35 Lightning II and E-7 Wedgetail Overall, it’s a powerful aircraft that performed well in this environment.
Wing Commander Rees also explained the benefits of training in the Northern Territory. “Being able to fly supersonic in 50,000 square miles of training area is a unique advantage for us, and unmatched anywhere else in the world,” he said. “We have worked closely with the RAAF on a number of previous exercises, and we share a similar approach to air operations. This exercise not only reinforced that, but also gave us the opportunity to share our experiences and learn from other participating nations. This extended outside of the flight where our Royal Air Force caterers, movement teams and force protection specialists also worked alongside their Royal Australian Air Force counterparts, sharing their own experiences.
Regarding lessons learned, Wing Commander Rees said it offered a “unique opportunity” to deploy over 8,500 nautical miles to Darwin.
“That in itself generated many lessons, if we were to do that for future operations or exercises. But overall, the clear lesson is that by working closely with other nations, each bringing their own specializations and skills, the total capability ends up being greater than the sum of the parts,” he said. Explain.
“For many of our pilots, this was their first time participating in a high force employment exercise, so it gave them vital experience of flying in this type of flight operation. From an extended team perspective, our crew, engineers, logisticians, and Voyager, Atlas, and Typhoon force support personnel were also able to practice the skills required for short-notice global deployments.
Despite these benefits, Wing Commander Rees added that future RAF participation in Pitch Black exercises has yet to be decided.
After Pitch Black 22, the RAF contingent was to return to the UK via India, where a brief period of bilateral training with the Indian Air Force (IAF) was planned.