USAF improves interoperability, strengthens Indo-Pacific partnerships

by Senior Airman Savannah L. Waters, 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Stripes Korea

ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE DARWIN, Australia -- U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, concluded their participation in Exercise Pitch Black 2018 (PBK18) Aug. 17, following three weeks of training events conducted in Northern Territory, Australia.

Hosted by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Darwin, this year’s exercise included both U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps assets, alongside 15 other countries, including Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and the Philippines. These nations combined exercised approximately 140 aircraft in one of the largest airspaces in the world during the training.

“Large force exercises like Pitch Black allow us to partner with different nations and improve our interoperability,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Miranda, 80th Fighter Squadron (FS) commander. “It also gives us the opportunity to build upon existing relationships and establish new ones.”

During this exercise, F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots from the 80th FS accomplished basic fighter maneuver training with dissimilar aircraft, and two pilots were upgraded to the role of mission commander. This role allowed the pilots to lead the planning, execution and debrief portions of the exercise.

“It’s part of the normal progression of upgrade training that we would usually accomplish as fighter pilots, but getting to accomplish that here in Australia was a unique opportunity,” said Capt. Benjamin “Boom” Saunders, 80th FS pilot, and one of two pilots that upgraded to mission commander during Exercise PBK18. “I oversaw roughly 80 aircraft during my mission commander upgrade, helping to execute the operation with all of these different units, airframes and experiences from our allied partners.”

In addition to upgrade training, the 80 FS “Juvats” contributed to approximately 162 sorties with more than 355 flying hours completed along with maintenance personnel from the 8th Maintenance Group, dedicating more than 340 hours to the exercise.

During PBK18, some Airmen experienced their first multi-national large force exercise.

“Exercise Pitch Black was a great training environment for newer maintainers like myself to collaborate with allied nations,” said Airman 1st Class Carmen Bamba, 80th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief. “Pitch Black has pushed me to new limits and taught me skills that I can use in the future.”

This exercise is an example of how strong relationships can be fostered between regional, coalition and allied nations.

“We’re proud of the relationship we’ve forged with the USAF and Pacific Air Forces through Exercise Pitch Black, and we look forward to working with the PACAF again during future Pitch Black exercises,” said RAAF Group Capt. Robert Denney, commander of Task Force Unit Headquarters during Pitch Black 18. “We benefit from many bilateral and multilateral exercises with PACAF like Exercises Cope North (in Guam) and Red Flag Alaska, so it’s great for us to host the 80th Fighter Squadron at this year’s Exercise Pitch Black.”

Denney said the relationship with PACAF at Pitch Black will continue going into Exercise Pitch Black 2020 and beyond.

Photo Caption:

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, assigned to Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, fly over the Northern Territory, Australia, while receiving air-to-air refueling from a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft during Exercise Pitch Black 2018, Aug. 7, 2018. This training focuses on exercising international forces in the planning and execution of large-scale offensive, counter-air and counter-land operations in a coalition environment against a capable adversary force.

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