• Credit: Defence
    Credit: Defence

A Royal Australian Air Force Airbus KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) from No.33 Squadron touched down at Amberley in November after participating in a joint US-Republic of Korea exercise on the Korean peninsula.

One aircraft and 26 personnel from the squadron participated in Exercise Vigilant Defense 24, a Large Force Employment (LFE) held between 30 October and 3 November. Vigilant Defense is a Combined Flying Training Event (CFTE) sponsored by the USAF’s Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) command.

Vigilant Defense 24 is the second in the series to involve an RAAF tanker operating alongside the ROKAF’s 261st Air Tanker Squadron, from the 5th Air Transport Wing (ATW) based at Gimhae, near the port city of Busan.

“Vigilant Defense is one of several exercises routinely held by the US and South Korea and is intended to enhance combined defence posture and strengthen combined air operations,” a Defence spokesperson said.

“Participation in this exercise allows RAAF aviators to build working-level relationships with ROKAF counterparts, share best practices and experience, and build their own skillsets in conducting support to high-tempo flying operations required to secure a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

To find out more about the exercise and the lessons learned from the engagement with two key regional allies, ADM recently spoke with Squadron Leader Anna Lovatt, who is the Executive Officer of 33 Sqn and was the Detachment Commander for the KC30A deployment to Gimhae Air Base for the exercise.

“This is the second time we’ve done this exercise; I was the Detachment Commander last year as well, so I had the opportunity to see how it evolved and take what we learned last time to make sure we took more away from this one,” SQNLDR Lovatt said.

“We worked alongside the 261st MRTT Squadron and we had a lot of opportunity to share information and experiences with our ROKAF counterparts.”

Korea operates the KC-330A Cygnus which, together with the RAAF’s KC-30A, is a member of Airbus’ global A330-based MRTT community.

SQNLDR Lovatt said that the experiences gained at Vigilant Defense 24 built on the lessons learned from the previous event in 2023 and before that, Exercise Pitch Black 2022, which was the first time the ROKAF had deployed to Australia.

During the most recent exercise, the KC-30A worked with US Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet and F-35B Lightning II fighters, as well as USAF and ROKAF F-16C/D Fighting Falcons.

“This was an ideal opportunity from an exercise perspective, where we provided a meaningful contribution and work with the platforms that we want to work with,” SQNLDR Lovatt said. “So, we got a lot out of it from an MRTT perspective, but also from an exercise perspective, operating with our regional partners.”

From an RAAF perspective, SQNLDR Lovatt said that the exercise provided excellent training opportunities for squadron members, who perhaps hadn’t previously had the opportunity to refuel F-16s, or plan deployments. From a ROKAF perspective, 261st ATS members flew aboard the RAAF MRTT, to learn about hose and drogue refuelling – something the ROKAF does not do.

“It was a big exercise, with so many different aircraft participating, with plenty of training opportunities for us – but also a great engagement opportunity as well,” SQNLDR Lovatt said.

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