India’s Air Force to Participate in Australia’s ‘Pitch Black’ Air Combat Exercise

The Indian Air Force will for the first time participate in the Royal Australian Air Force’s biennial ‘Pitch Black’ air combat drill.

India’s Air Force to Participate in Australia’s ‘Pitch Black’ Air Combat Exercise

A pilot enters his aircraft to conduct night flying operations during exercise ‘Pitch Black’ in July 2016.

Credit: Royal Australian Air Force

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will for the first time participate in the biennial ‘Pitch Black’ air combat exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), slated to take place from July 27 to August 17, according to the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD).

Pitch Black is a biennial three week multi-national large force employment exercise conducted from RAAF bases in Darwin and Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory. Participants include around 4,000 military personnel and up to 140 aircraft from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the United States.

“Exercise Pitch Black features a range of realistic, simulated threats which can be found in a modern battle-space environment and is an opportunity to test and improve our force integration, utilizing one of the largest training airspace areas in the world — Bradshaw Field Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range,” the RAAF said in a statement.

The IAF will participate with four Sukhoi Su-30MKI multirole fighters, an Ilyushin Il-78 tanker, a Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 stretched Super Hercules, and a Boeing C-17 transport aircraft. The IAF contingent will also include 45 Garud special forces personnel. The Indian contingent would “aim to undertake simulated air combat exercises in a controlled environment and mutual exchange of best practices towards enhancing IAF operational capability.”

“During the flight from India to Australia and back, Su-30 MKI will carry out air to air refueling with IL-78 tankers,” the Indian MoD stated. “After completion of the exercise, on its return leg from Darwin to Subang, Su-30 MKI will be refueled in air for the first time by RAAF KC-30A.” The twin-seater, twin-engine Su-30MKI, developed by Russian aircraft maker Sukhoi and license-built in India, constitutes the backbone of the IAF’s fighter force.

The IAF has participated in two multilateral air combat exercises over the last three years: the Red Flag exercise held in the United States in April-May 2016 and the Blue Flag air combat drill in Israel in November 2017.

The IAFs participation in the Pitch Black air combat drill, however, is diplomatically significant given that New Delhi once again refused Australia’s bid to take part in the 2018 iteration of the Malabar naval exercise earlier this year. India is thought to have rejected Australia’s participation partially over concerns that the Royal Australian Navy’s participation will give the exercise too much of an overt anti-Chinese dent and may detrimentally impact Indo-Sino relations.

Australia, India, Japan, and the United States have also reestablished the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), an inter-governmental security forum, in November 2017, which aims to enable closer cooperation among its members to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The QSD ceased its activity in 2007 following Australia’s withdrawal from it.