By Shi Hanjuan and Li You
The multinational military exercise code-named "Pitch Black 2022" led by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) kicked off on August 19 and will last until September 8 at RAAF Base Darwin, RAAF Base Tindal, and RAAF Base Amberley. With the participation of about 100 aircraft and 2,500 troops from 17 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the US, the exercise has the largest number of participating countries in its history.
According to analysts, due to the existence of the US-Australia alliance, this exercise reflects the US's attempt to promote "major power competition", win over allies in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthen military alliances, and attempt to create an "Asia-Pacific version of NATO", which has cast a gloom over Asia-Pacific security.
In terms of geographical location, the RAAF Base Darwin, RAAF Base Tindal where the exercise is mainly held, are in northern Australia. They are close to the South China Sea and are connected to the Indian Ocean and are very important for the US to project sea and air power in the Asia-Pacific region. To support the activities of the US military in northern Australia, the US and Australia have continuously allocated funds to build strategic military fuel storage facilities , expand ports and airports, and maintain facilities in recent years at the RAAF Base Darwin. The two countries also plan to build the RAAF Base Tindal into a high-end training ground for large-scale joint training and drills by 2025. The Australian Department of Defense claimed that exercise Pitch Black showed Australia's high priority in promoting closer ties in the Indo-Pacific region. In the future, Australia's role in the so-called Indo-Pacific Strategy of the US will become more prominent.
In terms of the number of participating troops, it is the first time for the ROK, Japan, and Germany to participate in the drill, thanks to the efforts of the US. Among them, the ROK expanded the airspace for joint combat missions to the southern hemisphere for the first time. Germany flew more than 15,000 kilometers and it was the first time for the German air force to go to the Asia-Pacific region after World War II. Regarding the participation of several NATO countries including Germany and France, NATO stated on its official website that by inviting NATO allies to conduct interoperability training with Partners and other regional air forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia has created an opportunity for bringing the air forces together and promoting mutual understanding of global security issues. However, the real aim is self-evident that China was defined as a "challenge" for the first time at the NATO Madrid summit in June this year.
Judging from the equipment and drill subjects, this drill also reflects its sinister intentions. According to the official website of the RAAF and media reports, the equipment mainly includes fighter jets, tankers, and transport aircraft. The subjects cover formation attacks, air defense, air-to-ground and air-to-sea strikes, and aerial refueling. It is worth noting that the exercise will focus on aerial refueling capability, the "combat multiplier". Each participating country will send its own aerial refueling aircraft and fighter jets to practice aerial refueling. This also means that when the air forces of the US and its allies and partners are deployed in the Asia-Pacific region, they can provide air refueling support to each other, and rapidly improve their long-range operations and agile deployment capabilities. The US and its allies will have more airpower deployed to or supported by Australia, which will inevitably bring new risks to regional security.
Pitch Black 2022 shows that Australia has become a "bridgehead" for the US to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The US actively woos countries in and outside the region to speed up the establishment of an "Asia-Pacific version of NATO" and steps up the pace of establishing military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. This will have a serious impact on the regional security situation, and therefore we must maintain a high degree of vigilance.
(The author is from the PLA Air Force Research Institute)