New Delhi. 19 August   2018. Ex Pitch Black a biennial multi-national large force employment warfare exercise was hosted by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from 24 Jul 18 to 18 Aug 18 in Darwin, Australia. Indian Air Force had earlier participated in the exercise as observers and this was for the first time that IAF participated with air assets in the Exercise Pitch Black (PB-18). With participation of 16 nations and more than 140 aircraft, the current edition was the largest Pitch Black ever conducted by Australia. IAF contingent consisted of 145 air-warriors including IAF Commandos team, Garuds, 04 X Su-30 MKI, 01 X C-130 and 01 X C-17 for logistic support for induction and de-induction. The contingent assembled at Air Force Station Kalaikunda and departed for the exercise on 19 Jul 18 from India to Australia via Indonesia. The contingent was led by Group Captain CUV Rao.

The objectives for the exercise were to foster closer relationship between the participating friendly forces and to promote interoperability through exchange of knowledge and experience. The aim for participating crew and specialist observers was to expose them to op environment in international scenarios. The exercise comprised of 2 phases, first being the Force Integration week. During the Force Integration week, the forces flew basic missions with an aim to get to same working platform. Subsequently the missions involved larger packages & we undertook simulated air combat exercises in near realistic environment and exchanged best practices towards enhancing our operational capability. 

Various day and night operations were undertaken by the IAF and for the first time. SU-30MKI carried out Air to Air Refueling with KC-30A of RAAF. The KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport is a modified Airbus A330 airliner that is used by RAAF to conduct air-to-air refueling and provide strategic airlift. Some highlights of the exercise included exchange sorties flown by IAF pilots flying in Rafale & RAAF F/A-18 (Hornets) and RAAF crew & French Crew flying in SU-30MKI. IAF C-130J crew got a unique opportunity to fly in RAAF C130J aircraft. C-130J also carried out assault landing at Dalmare, Assault Operations of dropping specialist vehicles in Op area and participation in Large Force Engagement missions, both by day and night.

Maiden operations undertaken by the IAF during the exercise included IAF Commandos, Garuds and Para Jump Instructors jumping from C-27J Spartan in a foreign country, Container Delivery System (CDS) drop by C-130 J, Engine Running Ops (ERO) for dropping Ops Specialist Vehicles in Combat Zone. During the exercise, IAF maintenance crew ensured 100% serviceability of all the assets, thus ensuring complete participation of the forces in the exercise.

The exercise provided a unique opportunity for exchange of knowledge and experience with the participating nations in a dynamic warfare environment. The IAF contingent interacted with various countries, gained first-hand experience of training patterns, employment and operating philosophies of their combat assets.

Participation in a multinational air exercise assumes importance in view of the continued engagement of the IAF with friendly foreign countries. Over the last decade, IAF has been actively participating in operational exercises hosted by various countries, wherein collaborative engagements have been undertaken with the best air forces in the world. It was a unique, fascinating, desirable and timeless learning at the exercise for the IAF contingent.

The professionalism and work ethos of IAF Pilots, technicians, Airmen and all participating Air-Warriors earned praises from all quarters. The Operational lessons learnt by IAF during the exercise will assist IAF in adding more teeth to its overall war waging capabilities and assist us in better joint man ship with the friendly Nations. IAF has de-inducted from Darwin, Australia and has reached Malaysia on its return journey to India.