Kolkata: At the crack of dawn on Thursday, four frontline Su-30MKI fighter aircraft of the IAF tore down the runway of Air Force Station Kalaikunda in West Midnapore and took off for a destination nearly 6,000 km to the southeast. 

They are part of the IAF contingent participating in Exercise Pitch Black-2018, a multinational exercise being organised by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This is the first time that the IAF is participating.

“The fighters will receive support from a C-130J Super Hercules that took off from Kalaikunda on Wednesday and a C-17 Globemaster-III that left just ahead of the four Sukhois. After a flight of about 6 hours, during which the fighters were refuelled by IL-78 mid-air refuellers, they made a technical halt at Surabaya in Indonesia, from where they proceeded further towards Australia. On their return journey between Darwin and Subang in Indonesia after the exercise, the Su-30 MKI will be refuelled by RAAF KC-30A mid-air refuellers,” an IAF official said.

The IAF contingent, led by Group Captain CUV Rao, comprises 145 air warriors, including a team of Garud commandos.

Air Marshal Anil Khosla, air officer commanding-in-chief, Eastern Air Command, was present at AFS Kalaikunda to interact with the air warriors before their departure. Emphasising the priority of the assignment and importance of the mission, he urged them all to be ambassadors of the country and display the highest degree of professionalism.

“Exercise Pitch Black will be held between July 24 and August 18. It is a biennial multi-national large force deployment exercise conducted from the RAAF bases at Darwin and Tindal. Participation in multinational air exercises assumes importance in view of the continued engagement of the IAF with friendly foreign countries. Over the last decade, IAF has been actively participating in operational exercises hosted by various countries, wherein collaborative engagements are undertaken with the best air forces in the world. During the transit to Australia, the IAF contingent will also have constructive engagements with the Indonesian and Malaysian air forces,” the official added.