The 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Minot Air Force Base, N.D., took to the skies of Australia’s Northern Territory Aug. 2 to 18 as the lone U.S. Air Force unit flying in Exercise Pitch Black 12.
With more than 2,200 personnel and up to 100 participating military aircraft, Exercise Pitch Black 12 is the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest and most complex air exercise.
From July 27 to Aug. 17, the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, Australian Defense Force, Royal Thai Armed Forces, Singapore Armed Forces, New Zealand Defense Force, Malaysian Armed Forces, French Armed Forces, British Armed Forces, Indonesian National Armed Forces and a component operating under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization participated in the exercise.
The 69th EBSs’ participation in Pitch Black 12 is critical to satisfying their mission objectives in support of Pacific Air Forces’ continuous bomber presence.
As part of the mission, bombers participate in exercises while deployed in order to showcase both U.S. offensive and defensive capabilities, engage with the citizens of regional partners and ultimately contribute toward interoperability with other countries.
“In traversing the Pacific Ocean for large-scale exercises such as Rim of the Pacific and Pitch Black 12, our crews hone their skills, as well as assure our allies of the United States’ commitment to the region,” said Capt. Timothy May, 69th EBS weapons and tactics flight commander and bomber liaison officer representing the squadron for planning and briefings in Australia for Pitch Black 12.
“It shows that the United States maintains a credible strike capability in the region at all times,” he said.
For more than 20 years, the RAAF has conducted the biennial Pitch Black Exercises as major training activities, providing participating nations the opportunity to obtain useful military training and the chance to strengthen ties with regional partners.
Captain May said that integrating into Pacific Command joint and coalition exercises, operations and training provided aircrews unique training opportunities in support of the continuous bomber presence..
“This exercise afforded my colleagues and I a tremendous opportunity to learn and expand our skills as aviators,” said Captain May. “Communicating and planning with our Pacific allies provided a unique learning opportunity that bolsters cultural and professional relationships among regional partners.”
During the exercise, the B-52 displayed unique capabilities that make it a commodity in such large-scale air exercises. Along with its ordnance capacity, the B-52 brings a long-endurance capability, which translates directly to persistent airpower.
“The B-52 brings a volume of ordnance that smaller, tactical assets cannot match,” said Captain May. “In multiple cases during the exercise, a single B-52 covered nearly 50 percent of its team’s targets in given scenarios.”
The exercise required participants to conduct offensive counter air and defensive counter air missions launched from RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal.
Pitch Black 12 utilized massive training areas that featured realistic threat simulations and targets. These training areas accommodated larger aircraft formations and provided a formidable obstacle course for the aircraft and crews of participating nations.
“During the exercise we integrated into flying formations with the other nations,” said Maj. Christopher Morris, 69th EBS mission planning cell team chief. “On a training day, we can have Indonesian or Taiwanese aircraft escort us to the target and protect us from the opposing targets. Such formations promote good integration with our regional partners’ air forces.”
Captain May said that the exercise gave participants opportunities to practice operating in high threat environments against very capable adversaries.
“With six nations participating we receive different perspectives from regional air forces, from mission planning to execution to debrief,” said Captain May. “The collective efforts of all six nations bring an impressive array of aircraft and skills to the fight.”
The 69th EBS participation in Pitch Black 12 is only one among multiple exercises where in the B-52 has represented the U.S. Air Force and its air-strike capability.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to integrate with our allies through participation in Pitch Black 12,” said Lt. Col. Doug Gosney, 69th EBS commander. “Our B-52 bomber force and aircrew maintain a high level of readiness across all mission sets. Participation in these types of exercises allow us to hone our skills even further while simultaneously forging and strengthening relationships with our friends and allies.”
Along with experiences gained and reinforced international ties, the 69th EBS continues to support the CBP mission and take part in exercises that develop greater interoperability, strengthen regional peace, and promote stability and prosperity within the Asia-Pacific Region.
“I am extremely proud of our bombers and crew force for their accomplishments and participation in regional activities in the Pacific,” said Gosney. “Their service and dedication bring unique capabilities to these coalition and joint exercises as part of the continuous bomber presence mission and is a testament to the fact that the Air Force stands ready for the call and can successfully accomplish all assigned missions.”