The RAAF has deployed its new C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter to the Top End for the first time, proving that Exercise Pitch Black is more than just the Southern Hemisphere’s largest air combat exercise.
The Spartans, from 35 Sqn at Richmond, are providing support for an ADF deployment to the austere airfield at Batchelor, about 80 kilometres south of Darwin. It is a major test of their ability to deploy to remote locations and sustain operations for an extended period of time.
During Pitch Black, Batchelor was ‘captured’ by Army’s 2 Commando and Combat Control Teams from RAAF’s 4 Sqn, who were parachuted into the area from a C-27J and C-130J. After the simulated enemy had been driven back from the airfield, control was handed over to No.2 Security Forces Squadron, which contained RAAF Airfield Defence Guards and Air Force Police and Security members. They then began to establish a defence base.
From there, Batchelor was handed over to No.382 Contingency Response Squadron (382 CRS). The squadron is effectively running the airfield as ‘RAAF Base Batchelor’ for the duration of the three-week exercise, including the provision of Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS), communications, and operations sections.
Fuel for the C-27Js is provided by Army’s 9th Force Support Battalion (9 FSB), which has set up a forward arming and refuelling point using deployable rubber fuel bladders.
The establishment of the base was completed by the arrival of a Role 2 deployable field hospital, complete with an emergency services department, critical care services, pathology, radiology, and dental services. The RAAF’s No.1 Expeditionary Health Squadron (1 EHS) deployed the hospital to Tindal via C-17 before transporting it by road to Batchelor, two hours north of Katherine, and constructing it in the hot and dusty environment.
With this complete, C-27 operations began from Batchelor during the second week of Pitch Black and the two aircraft dedicated to the exercise are being used to air drop supplies and personnel into the Bradshaw and Delamere training ranges as part of the overall scenario. As ADM reported last week, the aircraft are also working with the Indian Air Force Garud Commando Force.
“Pitch Black is broken up into a number of phases and the first week was Force Integration Training (FIT) week, where we performed a number of missions concerned with initiating the ground scenario here at Batchelor,” 35 Sqn Detachment Commander Squadron Leader Mark Seery explained. “We infiltrated 2 Commando via airdrop and after it was secured we brought in 2 SFS to better secure the airfield, in preparation for 382 CRS to arrive and set up this entire Expeditionary Air Base.”
“Our primary role is Air-Land or Air Drop operations in a high threat environment and we are now really getting in to the Large Force Employment (LFE) part of the exercise.
“The major training outcomes we will get out of this element will be the continuation of our normal Air-Land or Air Drop, operations, including night vision work, but the big aspect of it is de-conflicting with other air assets.”