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RAAF’s biggest ever Exercise Pitch Black to begin in July

written by Robert Dougherty | June 20, 2024

Republic of Korea Air Force KF-16U Fighting Falcon and Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conduct a flight together as part of Exercise Pitch Black 2022. (Image: Republic of Korea Air Force)

Exercise Pitch Black returns next month for the biggest edition in Royal Australian Air Force history.

The Air Force’s premier biennial flying activity for strengthening international engagement, Exercise Pitch Black 24, will involve 20 nations and one multinational element, from 12 July to 2 August.

This includes first-time participation with aircraft from Italy, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Spain, and personnel from Brunei and Fiji.

Together, they’ll work from RAAF Bases Darwin, Tindal, and Amberley for three weeks of large-force employment missions in military airspace over the Northern Territory.

Air Commodore Peter Robinson will lead Exercise Pitch Black 24 as Officer Conducting the Exercise.

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“This will be the biggest single air exercise that we have hosted in the modern Air Force, with approximately 140 aircraft and more than 4,400 personnel participating,” AIRCDRE Robinson said.

“The size of this exercise will enable cooperation that will go beyond what was possible at any previous Pitch Black, from engaging with our immediate regional partners through to welcoming allies and partners from around the globe.

“For all participants in Exercise Pitch Black, it will be an opportunity to share a breadth of experience, understand one another better, and demonstrate our shared value of sustaining peace and stability across the region.”

Hosting the biggest Pitch Black in the exercise’s 43-year history will be made possible through the use of new infrastructure and increased use of other bases and facilities.

“We’ll use Defence Accommodation Precinct Darwin at Howard Springs for the first time, housing thousands of Australian and multinational participants throughout the exercise,” AIRCDRE Robinson said.

“RAAF Base Amberley will also take on an increased role in this exercise compared to 2022, with a greater number of tankers and transport aircraft operating from there.”

Exercise Pitch Black missions will require complex planning and coordination across hundreds of Australian and international aircrew and thousands of support personnel.

Aircraft will fly over thousands of kilometres of Australian outback in precisely controlled airspace, overcoming dynamic threats by day and night.

While the exercise will be over in three weeks, its benefit to the region will endure.

“Exercise Pitch Black is a tangible example of how Air Force contributes to stability in the region, especially in how we engage in multilateral defence partnerships,” AIRCDRE Robinson said.

“The 2024 National Defence Strategy outlined the need for Australia to be a more capable security partner for the region, supporting partners’ sovereignty and contributing to strategic balance.

“Australia’s security and prosperity is tied to the security and prosperity of the region, and Exercise Pitch Black provides the environment to work with partners to build resilience and deter aggression and coercion.”

Exercise Pitch Black includes a Mindil Beach flying display and RAAF Base Darwin Open Day.

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