US, Australia, and UK Bring Their C-17s Together for Pacific Mobility Exercise

The U.S., Australia, and the U.K. joined forces for “Global Dexterity,” a two-week exercise in the Pacific that saw C-17 transport crews from all three nations work together to practice mobility operations from Nov. 27 to Dec. 8.

The jets and crews gathered at Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley, located near the center of the country’s east coast. In the exercise, air and ground crews from each country operated and maintained each other’s aircraft. They collaborated on airlift, airdrop, air refueling, and low-level flight to prepare for future conflicts or humanitarian missions that could see them working closely together.

“It’s critical as we go forward, I think, because we have an opportunity to both learn from each other and capitalize on each of our unique capabilities that we bring and learn from each other,” U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Lewis, 15th Operations Group commander, said in a release. “It’s those things that we bring together to sharpen each other and make each other better as a crew force across the C- 17 fleet.”

A Royal Air Force release published on Dec. 2 said the training would also include taking off and landing from small airfields with limited infrastructure in Northern Australia to practice tactical airlifts, as well as fly low between mountains in Papua New Guinea, a challenge in a heavy aircraft such as the C-17, though the aircraft is highly maneuverable for its size and designed to operate in rough conditions.

A Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flies in a training flight formation during Exercise Global Dexterity 23-24 around the skies of Papua New Guinea, Dec. 6, 2023. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Makensie Cooper

“One of the main objectives of the exercise is to allow us the opportunity to fly with multi-country crews to see the differences between techniques, tactics and procedures, but also to learn little tips and tricks that other defense forces might have that we haven’t necessarily considered ourselves,” said Flight Lieutenant Josh Wright, Royal Australian Air Force No. 36 Squadron pilot.

This was the RAF’s first appearance at Global Dexterity, and the service’s presence in the Indo-Pacific military exercises is expected to grow amid rising tensions with China. In March, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reached an agreement to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade pact involving 11 nations of the region, including Singapore, Japan, and Malaysia. Sunak also reiterated the country’s commitment to a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ for defense and security, addressing China’s challenge to global security at the G7 summit in May.

The U.S., U.K., and Australia are strengthening their military collaboration through AUKUS, a trilateral security and defense partnership signed in 2023. The agreement highlights reinforcing regional security in the region.

“You want to work with your mates so that you know both their capabilities, as well as the things that they can’t do whether it’s limited by government or by fleet size or by crew size,” Lewis added. “So that’s why it’s so important that we’re doing this now.”

Global Dexterity is a biannual exercise led by the U.S. Air Force’s 15th Wing, located at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. An earlier iteration was held in May and also revolved around C-17 interoperability and mobility training. The C-17, a long-range transport jet, is renowned for its capacity to carry heavy loads, including tanks and helicopters, with short takeoff and landing capabilities.