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US and All allies deploy F-35, F-15, F-16 and Su-30 to Indo-Pacific

The F-35 fighter jet is making its debut at the multinational Pitch Black exercise in Australia, with U.S. Marine Corps “B” variants participating in drills there in the lead-up to the main event.

The 12 F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft were practicing the Corps’ concept known as “Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations” at RAAF Base Curtin, according to Lt. Col. Richard Behrmann, an operations officer at Marine Aircraft Group 12 based in Iwakuni, Japan.

The F-35Bs have been deployed to RAAF Base Tindal, 600 miles away from Curtin, since mid-August for “robust” unit-level training ahead of Pitch Black, a military exercise involving more than 2,500 personnel and aircraft from 10 nations.

Behrmann told Defense News on Friday that the EABO training in Australia was a culmination of several MAG-12 events meant to refine the concept. One of those events included using Tindal as a hub and Curtin as a spoke in order to mirror EABO’s hub-and-spoke model, with the officer calling it the unit’s most “robust and in-depth” exercise of the concept.

EABO envisages the Marines being able to deploy mobile, easily sustainable expeditionary forces to austere, temporary locations in or near contested areas to conduct missions such as sea denial or sea control.

RAAF Base Curtin, which locals call a front-line “bare base,” has a 10,000-foot runway, aircraft shelters and other infrastructure, which are normally crewed and maintained by a small caretaker staff, unless activated for use during exercises or a crisis.

The 12 F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack squadrons 121 and 242 are also Down Under to drill with other MAG-12 subordinate units — Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12.

A pair of Japan-based Marine Corps KC-130J Super Hercules tankers, which also performed transport tasks and rapid ground refueling, supported the F-35Bs during the EABO training.

The U.S. air and ground elements that deployed to Australia included some 150 fighter squadron personnel and 60 members from support units who mirrored the Marine Corps’ air-ground task force concept, which seeks to provide multidomain capabilities

Behrmann also said the F-35s deployed to Australia with the Autonomic Logistics Information System, which is used for predictive maintenance of the aircraft. He noted that Marines used a very small aperture terminal — essentially a ground station with a satellite dish — to transmit data for ALIS.

During Pitch Black, which runs Aug. 19-Sept. 8, American F-35Bs and Australian F-35As flew air-to-air and air-to-ground missions during the day and night as part of large-force employment operations with a variety of aircraft from other partner nations, including F-15, F-16 and Su-30 fighters.