Exercise Pitch Black 2022 concluded yesterday, following three weeks of successful training by Australian and international military aircraft in the skies of the Northern Territory.
CAPTION: RAAF military-working-dog handler Leading Aircraftwoman Brooke Hitchinson with her dog, Karma, and Royal New Zealand Air Force counterpart Leading Aircraftman Byron Buys with Kaiser, on the flightline at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2022. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Kate Czerny.
This year’s exercise involved 17 nations, including Australia, with approximately 100 aircraft and 2500 personnel operating primarily from Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, as well as RAAF Bases Tindal and Amberley.
Exercise Commander Air Commodore Tim Alsop said he was impressed with how quickly all participants were able to integrate and conduct realistic training scenarios.
“Australia, with multinational partner forces, uses Exercise Pitch Black to enhance our ability to work together on the planning and conduct of high-end multi-domain air operations in a real-world environment,” Air Commodore Alsop said.
“By training with our international partners, we develop common standards, personal relationships and, most importantly, a level of trust that allows us to operate effectively together.
“Exercise Pitch Black provides more than just flying operations training – it’s about deepening relationships and understanding between personnel, and that’s exactly what we achieved this year.”
This year Exercise Pitch Black hosted the largest number of nations in the exercise’s history, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, UAE, UK and the USA participating.
Significantly, Exercise Pitch Black 2022 marked the first time aircraft from Germany, Japan and the Republic of Korea participated.
The New Zealand Defence Force came away from Pitch Black confident it could contribute meaningfully to multinational security and peacekeeping efforts.
Sixty NZDF personnel took part, primarily carrying out support roles, which allowed the aircraft to take to the skies and keep flying.
NZDF personnel included military police, chefs, air movements, security forces, communication and information system technicians, defence public affairs, medics, ground support equipment, technicians, aviation refuellers, intelligence specialists, logistics officers and firefighters as well as military working dogs.
NZ Army chefs have been helping feed up to 500 aircrew at a sitting – numbers they don’t normally get at home.
NZDF detachment commander Flight Lieutenant Shirley Barakuta said the great thing about Exercise Pitch Black was that NZDF personnel were performing their jobs just the same as they would on operations.
“Our security forces have been patrolling the airfield and ensuring the security of aircraft and people, our aviation-fuel specialists fuelled aircraft and monitored fuel quality, our air-load team loaded aircraft, and our caterers prepared and served meals,” Flight Lieutenant Shirley Barakuta said.
“Exercises such as Pitch Black provide a unique opportunity for NZDF personnel to practise their roles in an overseas environment in collaboration with other militaries.
“This ensures our people are combat capable, trained, equipped and ready to contribute to international peace and security.
“We have shown that we can work well with RAAF units at the bases in Darwin and Tindal, which fostered multinational cooperation and trust, enhancing interoperability with a range of other nations.”
Leading Aircraftman Katrina James, a New Zealand aviation-fuel specialist, said it had been a “blast” working with the likes of the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets.
“The sheer scale of the exercise and the organisation, along with so many friendly forces from different countries, was amazing,” she said.
“It’s been an adventure, and I feel blessed to have been a part of it.
“It’s been an amazing experience working with other nations and the gratitude that they’ve shown towards us.
“They’ve been pretty impressed with our work-ethic and attitude to the job.”
Pitch Black was a hit with Northern Territorians too, with nearly 25,000 attending an open day at RAAF Base Darwin midway through the exercise.
Air Commodore Alsop said the Northern Territory was well situated to host the exercise and thanked the community for their ongoing support.
“We couldn’t conduct this vital training without the support of the people of the Northern Territory.
“The Top End has some of the largest training airspace in the world, and it was fantastic to be able to share these training areas with our international partners.
“It’s been an honour to host all the participants this year, and we look forward to welcoming them back for the next iteration of Exercise Pitch Black in 2024.”