Patron Saint of the ‘Flags’

16 December 2019

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Larger than life, bursting with ideas, “Moody” Suter was a driving force for the Red Flag exercises, the Warrior Preparation Center in Europe, and other concepts which are training norms today. MS&T Editor Rick Adams looks at the legacy.

Forty-four years ago this month, the first “Red Flag” exercise was staged over the Nevada desert. It featured 37 aircraft and about 500 US Air Force personnel.

By comparison, Red Flag 2019-2 was comprised of 80 aircraft (fighters, bombers, tankers, surveillance aircraft and unmanned systems) and forces from the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Indeed, there are now four to six Red Flag exercises each year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and up to four more, Red Flag – Alaska, at Eielson AFB. Canada has a Maple Flag. Israel stages Blue Flag engagements. Green Flag integrates electronic countermeasures.

Since 1975, 30 countries have participated in the Red Flag exercises: more than half a million personnel, including 157,000 aircrew flying over 411,000 sorties across 757,000 hours of flying time.

And it all started with a sketch on a bar napkin.

Moody and His Pirates

Colonel Richard “Moody” Suter is generally credited as “the father of Red Flag.” Together with his “fighter mafia” friends in the basement of the Pentagon – (then-Majors, later Generals) Charles A. Horner, William L. Kirk and John A. Corder – they were looking to improve the air combat skills of American pilots, who had performed dismally during the Vietnam War. An analysis dubbed the “Red Baron” report showed that the “exchange ratio” (enemy losses versus US losses) had plummeted from 10-1 during the Korean conflict to, at best, 2-1 during Vietnam, and more probably 1-1. Other studies showed that the majority of losses occurred during a pilot’s first 10 combat missions.

Suter, who had flown more than 200 F4 missions, envisioned a controlled training environment which would simulate a pilot’s initial real-world missions, and thus get them beyond the most vulnerable period.

As befits his handle, “Moody” was said to be quick to laugh and quick to display anger. He had the ability to inspire people … and to irritate (regardless of rank). He had “a thousand ideas a day,” Kirk would say. “Only 10 were worth a damn, but those were really good.”

Suter also had the knowledge of the Air Force system and the ability to pitch the right brass to make things happen. Legend has it that Suter and MG James A. Knight, Jr, commander of the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center aggressor squadron, then-recently established at Nellis, briefed Red Flag to Gen. Robert J. Dixon, head of Tactical Air Command, on a golf cart in Vegas. Dixon embraced the idea, and ordered it to happen within six months.

Renowned aviation historian Walter J. Boyne related that “Suter was once described as a man who performed systems management before systems management was invented. He had the ability to visualize operations on a grand scale and know exactly what would be required – not only of the fighter force but also of all the supporting elements.” Suter believed “innovation without funding is called a static display.”

Suter is also credited with the concept for Checkmate, the USAF’s in-house operational-level think tank (which contributed to the air campaign in Desert Storm) and the Warrior Preparation Center. His idea, though, for “Janus”, an F15 with the backseater facing rearward for better situational awareness, didn’t get past the graphics concept stage.

Redirecting Europe

In 1982, two years before Suter would formally retire, his friend Kirk asked him to investigate NATO’s command-and-control for a potential air war in Europe. Kirk was the new director of operations for US Air Forces in Europe, based at Ramstein, West Germany. Suter’s conclusion was that NATO had a “Maginot Line” mindset, and expected to lose when the Russian Bear came crashing through the Fulda Gap.

His solution was to fight smarter, to pick the place and time of battle by which NATO forces could have a tactical advantage.

James G. “Snake” Clark (now Director, Q Group, Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability, Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements, HQ USAF) described an encounter with Suter at USAF-Europe Headquarters late one night. “I chided him for missing the 10th reunion of the Aggressors at Nellis the month before. He shanghaied me to his office, where with 27 viewgraphs and a bottle of ‘white whiskey,’ he explained his vision for the Warrior Preparation Center. It was brilliant… The next morning he appeared at my desk and said, “You belong to me. General Bill Kirk gave you to me to build this WPC.””

They “creatively appropriated” real estate at little-used Einsiedlerhof Air Station, and secured $2-million in seed money through Gen. Jerome F. O'Malley, the vice chief. “Suter hadn't even told O'Malley what the money was for, but the general trusted Suter's and Kirk's judgment: no staff summary sheet, PowerPoint, integrated process team, off-site, or POM submission required,” Clark recalled.

At an Air Force Association gathering, Clark characterized Suter as a man who “knew money, he knew people and he knew programs.” But, “I’m not sure he would succeed in today’s Air Force.”

The WPC and LVC

Another of Suter’s innovations was a theater-wide interactive wargaming exercise in which Commanders participated from their own headquarters via satellite-distributed simulation. Secure videoconferencing enabled remote debriefing each day regarding lessons learned, and there was even a capability to replay segments of the exercise. (Suter had demonstrated the satellite technology concept to US Army Gen. John R. Galvin – on bar napkins, of course – and then convinced DARPA to fund it.)

The forerunner, if you will, of live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training.

Today, the Warrior Preparation Center positions itself as an “Air and Space Joint Live, Virtual and Constructive (JLVC) training facility,” tasked to execute theater-wide distributed JLVC training to Joint and Combined warfighters at all levels in the European and African theaters. The WPC supports Tier 1 through Tier 4 training (strategic through tactical) via the Distributed Training Center connecting with other bases throughout the world.

The WPC has its fingers in most of the training exercises that are staged in Europe or Africa. “If you put the names on a map of Europe of all the exercises that are hosted by other countries, by NATO, by the US jointly – Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy – that we’re a prep center or participate in some way, you would not be able to see Europe,” said Col. Cameron Dadgar, WPC Commander.

“We put them through live advanced exercises. We put them through simulation environments, constructive environments, potentially augmented reality,” explained Dadgar.

For example, he described, “In one of our exercises we will have Italian Eurofighter pilots in their sims in Italy, NATO AWACS crews in their simulators, and JTAC in full-up domes in Germany – all interconnected into the same environment with the same communication system, seeing the same thing, fighting the same war. Meanwhile there are red adversary forces in addition to the exercise controllers (white participants). Putting them through a rigor they haven’t been exposed to before.”

“It’s more than just checking boxes and making sure they have a minimum level of qualification. It’s now putting those qualifications that they received in their garrison units to the test against a thinking enemy that isn’t constrained, that isn’t scripted.”

The WPC has been a pioneer in technical and operational innovation. For example, they were instrumental in developing the Air Warfare Simulation (AWSIM), a core model used across the DoD to train warfighters and leaders.

Last year, the National Training Systems Association (NTSA) gave the WPC an award for a new Coalition Exercise Facility and acquisition of the Control and Reporting Center (CRC) simulator, Patriot simulator, and Air Support Operations Center (ASOC) simulator.

The Warrior Preparation Center is comprised of six squadrons, each with distinct missions, hosting joint multinational exercises and delivering training courses to US forces, allies and partners:

Tactical Leadership Programme, DET 1-TLP, Albacete AB, Spain. Objective: increase the effectiveness of allied tactical air forces through the development of leadership skills, tactical flying capabilities, mission planning and tasking capabilities, and conceptual and doctrinal initiatives.

European Integrated Missile Defense Center (EIAMDC), WPC. The premier education, training, wargame, experimentation and exercise capability in Europe.

Polygone Range (Det-3), Bann Germany. Electronic warfare operations training for US and NATO aircrews, the only EW training range in continental Europe.

Air Ground Operations School (AGOS), WPC. Initial Qualification Training of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and Joint Fires Observers (JFOs). To be renamed the 4th Combat Training Squadron.

Inter-European Air Forces Academy (IEAFA), Kapaun AS, Germany. Officer and enlisted Professional Military Education with the goal of strengthening Allied and partner Air Force non-commissioned officer corps.

According to Col. Dadgar, “We are undergoing a large reorganization where a lot of those detachments will change into combat training squadrons and electronic warfare squadrons, bringing an increased level of responsibility for the commanders of each unit – basically pushing down more authority to execute their mission as needed. Instead of me being the expert in six different realms, I have a designated expert running the show in each of those units.”

A perpetual challenge of distributed simulation exercises is simulators and networks from multiple sources and with multiple levels of classification. Dadgar said, “It takes a lot of work to bridge the gaps. Without standardization between elements, that can get very, very difficult.” He said the WPC has organically developed middleware to keep the data flowing.

“What would be great, additionally, is if we could push some of those constructive elements airborne onto the onboard sensors of the live aircraft. There are some initiatives afoot to make that happen.”

Sounds like an idea Moody Suter would appreciate.

Published in MS&T issue 6/2019.


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