Exercise Pitch Black 2016 launches flight operations

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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 commenced air operations for Exercise Pitch Black 2016 alongside the Royal Australian Air Force at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 1, 2016.

Pitch Black 16 is a biennial, three week, multinational, large-force training exercise hosted by RAAF Tindal.

The allied nation squadrons will execute day and night flights from Tindal to Darwin, while performing large-force offensive counter-air and defensive counter-air support operations throughout the exercise.The offensive counter-air technique is used to suppress enemy air power by destroying or disabling grounded aircraft and facilities, while defensive counter-air detects, intercepts and destroys enemy threats to a friendly airspace.

Today’s operations began force integration training week, helping integrate and familiarize the other pilots and further enhance training.

“We started out with dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Republic of Singapore Air Force,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Luke Borgan, quality assurance officer and VMFA-122 pilot. “For an F-18 pilot, this is a dream place to fly. The weather this time of year and the range space is unbeatable. We can’t do training like this in Japan, so we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to maximize training.”

Dissimilar basic fighter maneuvers, or “dogfighting”, are strategic movements executed by different aircraft while performing air combat maneuvers in order to gain an advantage over the opponent.

As the training progresses, the U.S. pilots will also get the opportunity to engage in offensive counter-air and defensive counter-air maneuvers with Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. Australia maintains a strong relationship between the participating nations and identifies the importance of regional security among the allied nations.

“The nature of contemporary operations requires detailed planning and close coordination across multiple platforms and nations, so exercises like this are invaluable,” said Flight Lieutenant Michael Marriner, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot. “It’s always good to train with our close friends and fighter units. The variety of nations and capabilities participating in Exercise Pitch Black provides a training opportunity we can’t get day-to-day at the squadron.”

Whether it be aVMFA-122 F/A18C or Singapore’s F-16C/D, each nation involved in Pitch Black brings a unique capability affording the associated countries the opportunity to learn and understand each partner’s skills, preparing for real world situations and further strengthening the bonds of friendship.

“All the countries come to Australia to train in order to demonstrate our presence and commitment in the Pacific,” said Borgan. “The U.S. has such a large presence in the world, it’s important to work together with our allies to breed familiarity and ease future operations.”

Among the approximately 2,500 personnel and approximately 115 aircraft participating in Pitch Black, are members of Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 deployed from MCAS Iwakuni to support the flight operations of VMFA-122.

“VMFA-122 is honored and excited to participate in Pitch Black 16 with our counterparts,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Derek Brannon, commanding officer of VMFA-122. “The exercise will allow the Marines of Marine Aircraft Group-12 and VMFA-122 to gain a high level of training readiness by taking advantage of the integrated, large force events with our regional joint and coalition partners.”

Pitch Black gives the U.S. flying squadron a chance to employ all the training experience gained over the last six months of deployment in the Pacific, in a real world atmosphere with allied nations.

“Pitch Black 16 will provide us an opportunity to develop and validate operational concepts for conducting sustained contingency and combat operations around the world,” said Brannon. “Simply put, Pitch Black 16 will be the culminating event for VMFA-122’s deployment and will have lasting effects on the squadron’s combat readiness.”

Story by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg

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