India to send Su-30 MKIs and C-17 Globemaster for multi-lateral ‘Pitch Black’ exercise in Australia

New Delhi June 2  India may have rebuffed Australia’s proposal to join the annual trilateral Malabar naval wargames it holds with the US and Japan but will be dispatching four Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets and a C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft to the country to participate in the multi-lateral “Pitch Black” air combat exercise.

This will be India’s first participation in the Black Pitch exercise hosted by Australia once every two years, which usually includes the US, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand, among other countries.

The exercise, which will witness participation by over 100 aircraft, will be held at the Royal Australian Air Force bases at Tindal and Darwin from July 27 to August 17 this year. It will be IAF’s third multi-lateral exercise in the last three years, after the Red Flag exercise in the US in April-May 2016 and the Blue Flag wargames at Israel in November 2017.

“With a range of realistic threats that can be found in modern day air warfare, Pitch Black is the biggest air combat exercise in the southern hemisphere. Australia had first invited the IAF for the exercise in 2016 but it did not work out. This time, it’s all systems go,” said an official.

India and Australia, with their expanding strategic ties, already hold a joint naval exercise called AUSINDEX, the first edition of which was held off Visakhapatnam in 2015 and the second off Freemantle in 2017.

Officials said the two countries agree on the importance of maintaining maritime freedom of navigation in international waters, right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the backdrop of China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific region in general.

But India, for now, has opposed the inclusion of Australia in the tri-lateral Malabar exercise.

As earlier reported by TOI, warships, submarines and aircraft from India, the US and Japan are now all set to kick off another edition of the top-notch Malabar exercise off Guam in the Western Pacific from June 6 to 15.

China, incidentally, had lodged a strong protest against the Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 when it had been expanded to include Australia and Singapore as well.