• China and Russia are using expanded bi-lateral and multi-lateral training events to strengthen their defense ties with new and old allies. 
  • A significant trend in combined training activities finds nations in Asia and elsewhere realigning and broadening their portfolios away from the US.

Quickening and not-too-subtle hedging activities by heretofore rock-solid allies and friends of the US are providing these nations with emerging professional military education (PME) and combined training options with China and Russia. A confluence of diverse economic, political and other forces is further contributing to the realignment of many nations’ military education and training programs, and indeed, overarching defense strategies, with the US, China and Russia. 

Attention-getting moves to align various nations’ defense programs with the three major military competitors are emerging around the globe. 

Education with a Purpose

Major defense departments around the globe accept aspiring and commissioned officers from allied and friendly nations, in part, to help build career-long bonds of friendship and camaraderie. Indeed, the US Naval War College’s website for its Naval Staff College (officer paygrades O-3, 4, 5) noted, “Our graduates return to their navies to continue their successful careers; to date, over 130 have become chiefs of service.” At the June 2020 commencement, the college reported 64 non-US student graduates from an array of nations, five of which included Egypt, Poland, Taiwan, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Long-time US ally Thailand further hedged its bets in its evolving multi-polar defense outreach by signing in 2020 an agreement for its cadets to receive training at a Russian defense academy. 

Bi-Lateral and Multi-Lateral Training 

The sponsoring and coordination of small- and large-scale training events and exercises with other nations’ defense forces is no longer the exclusive domain of the Pentagon and other large Western nations. Previous senses of camaraderie and ideology are giving way to nations eyeing defense strategies well beyond the US and strengthening these ties with exercises and other training events and opportunities. 

Last August in the Western Pacific, the US Army and the Royal Thailand Armed Forces completed 2021 Exercise Cobra Gold, the 40th iteration of the annual Indo-Pacific military exercise. Of interest, one month later, China hosted and completed “Shared Destiny 2021,” its first multinational peacekeeping exercise with troops from Thailand, Mongolia and Pakistan at its military base in Queshan in central Henan province. And not to be outdone, Thailand is building upon an agreement inked in 2017 with Russia to further boost military cooperation, from technology to training.

Noteworthy strategic hedging continues elsewhere. India combined with Russia to complete joint training Exercise Indra 2021 in the vicinity of the Russian city Volgograd. The exercise sought to allow joint training between the two nations’ armies for planning and conducting counter-terror operations under the United Nations mandate. At the same time, India continues to participate in the US International Military Education and Training program, and has completed numerous multi-service exercises with the US, including the US-led Rim of the Pacific exercise and the trilateral Malabar exercise with the US and Japan.

Quickening Pace of Activities

The major military peer competitors - the US, China and Russia - will continue to include and, certainly, expand, PME programs and combined training exercises as foundations of their defense strategies, complementing the sale of advanced aircraft, air defense and other materiel, and other activities.

One near-term event with significant implications for combined training and the broader training domain for Pacific-rim nations will be this summer’s RIMPAC 2022.