Japanese F-35B jets make their debut at Australia's Pitch Black exercise.
Japanese F-35B jets make their debut at Australia's Pitch Black exercise.

DARWIN, Australia — At the international Pitch Black exercise in Australia, the F-35 fighter jet is making its debut, and U.S. Marine Corps "B" variants are taking part in training there before the major event. According to Lt. Col. Richard Behrmann, an operations officer with Marine Aircraft Group 12 headquartered in Iwakuni, Japan, the 12 F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft were rehearsing the Corps' idea known as "Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations" at RAAF Base Curtin. Since mid-August, the F-35Bs have been stationed at RAAF Base Tindal, 600 kilometres from Curtin, for "tough" unit-level training in preparation for Pitch Black, a military exercise involving more than 2,500 soldiers and aircraft from ten different countries.

The EABO training in Australia, according to Behrmann's comments to Defense News on Friday, was the result of many MAG-12 events designed to sharpen the idea. The officer described one of those exercises as the unit's most "robust and in-depth" application of the hub-and-spoke model, which involved employing Tindal as a hub and Curtin as a spoke. According to EABO, the Marines will be able to send out mobile, easily supported expeditionary forces to remote, temporary positions in or close to conflict areas to carry out tasks like sea control or denial.

The 10,000-foot runway, aircraft shelters, and other facilities at RAAF Base Curtin, which the locals refer to as a front-line "bare base," are typically manned and maintained by a small caretaker team, unless they are activated for use during drills or an emergency. Additionally, the 12 F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 121 and 242 are in Australia for training with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, two MAG-12 subordinate units. During the EABO training, a pair of Marine Corps KC-130J Super Hercules tankers located in Japan supported the F-35Bs by carrying out transport duties and providing rapid ground refuelling.

About 150 fighter squadron soldiers and 60 members of support units, representing the Marine Corps air-ground task force concept, which aims to provide multi-domain capabilities, were part of the U.S. air and ground elements that went to Australia. Behrmann added that the Autonomic Logistics Information System, which is utilised for preventative maintenance of the aircraft, was sent with the F-35s to Australia. He mentioned that Marines transmitted data for ALIS using a very small aperture terminal, which is effectively a ground station with a satellite dish.

Additionally, MAG-12 established a PACE plan (primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency) that enabled the force to use high-frequency radio to transfer data and voice communications between Iwakuni, Tindal, and Curtin during the EABO exercise. Only one F-35B fell out of a scheduled sortie during the deployment's first three weeks, according to Behrmann, who also mentioned other supporting platforms. As part of large-force employment operations with a variety of aircraft from other partner nations, including F-15, F-16, and Su-30 fighters, American F-35Bs and Australian F-35As flew air-to-air and air-to-ground missions during the day and night during Pitch Black, which runs from August 19 to September 8.

Behrmann noted that sizable airspace was reserved for the manoeuvres and that they improve interoperability and integration capabilities with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific area and beyond. In order to refuel mid-flight, multirole tanker/transport aircraft from Australia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom flew alongside the Marine Corps' F-35Bs. The British Eurofighter Typhoon jets were refuelled by KC-130J tankers of the Corps.

The Marine Corps hosted delegations from partner nations, including one from Singapore's next-generation fighter project office, during this year's Pitch Black, giving partner nations the chance to see the F-35B up close and in action. The F-35B has been chosen by Singapore as its next-generation fighter, and the sale of the first four aircraft, with an option to purchase eight more, has already been approved by the US State Department. Initial shipping is anticipated to start in 2026.

Pitch Black reportedly involves 17 countries, including Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, the Netherlands, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United States, according to a website run by the Royal Australian Air Force.

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