For several decades, the American military has relied on its superior training to ensure victory in its campaigns across the globe. But the absolute advantage in training that the U.S. military has come to depend on since the late 1970s is no longer as certain as it once was. Russia and China, recognizing the value of highly trained troops, have begun ramping up and revamping their training programs in recent years. Despite their many significant differences, Russian and Chinese forces also often train and cooperate with each other. Their navies are currently participating in Joint Sea 2015, the largest joint naval exercise in history. Scheduled to last until Aug. 28, the event features 22 warships, submarines and support ships in a battery of amphibious, anti-submarine, anti-aircraft and anti-ship exercises.
Both countries also hold at least one significant exercise almost every week. According to figures compiled by the Atlantic Council, the Russian military held at least six major military exercises involving between 65,000 and 160,000 personnel between the start of 2013 and the end of 2014. During the same period, NATO's largest exercises barely exceeded 6,000 personnel. While the size of an exercise by no means determines the quality of training and instruction, the size, scope and frequency of Russian exercises demonstrates Moscow's serious intent. Given the institutionalized manner of these exercises, they cannot be dismissed as simple grandstanding or signaling attempts. Russia's forces, particularly the elite special forces and airborne units, have already demonstrated a considerable degree of expertise and professionalism in the Ukrainian conflict.
Though the United States will likely continue to enjoy its absolute training advantage well into the future, the wide lead U.S. military planners have come to expect is no longer a guarantee. Both Russia and China appear to be determined to continue investing in their forces' development, despite growing financial constraints; even if military spending is ultimately cut, training and instruction will likely continue to take precedence over other areas. Superior training alone cannot win a war, but it can make the difference between success and failure.