The Korea Herald


S. Korea to participate in Australia-led air combat exercise for first time

Key NATO members, Indo-Pacific countries will jointly conduct aerial maneuvers

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Aug. 18, 2022 - 15:03

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South Korea’s KF-16 fighter jet takes off from Jungwon Air Base in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, on Thursday to participate in the Australia-led Exercise Pitch Black 2022, which will be staged from Aug. 29 to Sept.7. (Air Force) South Korea’s KF-16 fighter jet takes off from Jungwon Air Base in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, on Thursday to participate in the Australia-led Exercise Pitch Black 2022, which will be staged from Aug. 29 to Sept.7. (Air Force)
South Korea’s Air Force will join an Australia-led large-scale multilateral air combat exercise for the first time to enhance interoperability and military cooperation with participating Indo-Pacific countries and key NATO members.

South Korea’s fighter jets departed Jungwon Air Base in North Chungcheong Province on Thursday for Base Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia to take part in Exercise Pitch Black 2022, South Korea’s Air Force announced in a statement Thursday.

Exercise Pitch Black led by the Royal Australian Air Force is scheduled to be staged from Aug. 29 to Sep. 7 at bases Amberley, Darwin and Tindal after a four-year hiatus.

The biennial large-scale air combat exercise will host up to 100 aircraft and 2,500 personnel from 17 countries, which consist of Australia, Canada, Germany, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Australian air force said on its website.

The live-fly exercise aims to “enhance regional security through multinational interoperability and understanding,” the Australian air force said. “Activities such as Exercise Pitch Black recognize Australia’s strong relationships and the high value we place on regional security and fostering closer ties throughout the Indo- Pacific region.”

South Korea has dispatched a group of six KF-16 fighter jets and one KC-330 multirole tanker transport along with around 130 military personnel to “enhance combined operational capacity and military cooperation with participating countries,” South Korea’s Air Force said.

South Korea’s Air Force was an observer of Exercise Pitch Black from 2010 to 2018.

Pitch Black will be one of two multilateral military exercises in which South Korea’s Air Force has sent its fighter jets. South Korea’s Air Force participated in the US-led Red Flag multinational air exercise conducted at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

“Our Air Force seeks to expand the training areas of combined operations to the southern hemisphere through participation in the exercise and to enhance interoperability and strengthen combined operational capacity by conducting aerial operations with various air forces from several countries,” South Korea’s Air Force said.

This marks the first time that South Korea’s Air Force takes part in overseas military exercises without support from foreign forces. The six KF-16 fighter jets would receive aerial refueling from the KC-330 tanker aircraft en route to Australia and during Exercise Pitch Black.

South Korea’s Air Force aims to reinforce combined warfighting capabilities by participating in various training, including offensive and defensive counter-air operations, emergency air interdiction and air-to-air refueling, during the exercise.

The air combat exercise “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,” the Australian air force also said on its website.

South Korea’s participation comes after the South Korean and Australian defense chiefs this month committed to reinvigorating cooperation in conducting bilateral and regional military exercises during an in-person meeting in Canberra.

Apart from South Korea, Germany and Japan are also taking part in Exercise Pitch Black for the first time.

Germany is dispatching a total of 13 planes — which comprise six Eurofighters, four A400M transport aircraft and three A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft — for Exercise Pitch Black. The deployment project, dubbed “Rapid Pacific 2022,” comes as tensions have risen over Taiwan.

“Rapid Pacific is the largest and most challenging deployment the German Air Force has ever seen,” the chief of the German Air Force, Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, said Tuesday.

“With this deployment, our participation in the exercises in Australia, and the further joint projects with our partners in Singapore, Japan and South Korea, we are sending a clear message: the Air Force can be deployed quickly and over global distances -- even with several missions to be fulfilled in parallel.”

Also noteworthy, NATO’s key members, its four Asia-Pacific partners, members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and ASEAN countries will gather together for Exercise Pitch Black to conduct combined aerial maneuvers and enhance interoperability.

NATO Allied Air Command on Monday said Australia has “created an opportunity for bringing the air forces together and promoting mutual understanding of global security issues” by inviting NATO members to conduct interoperability training with its partners and other air forces in the Indo-Pacific region.