Germany recently cancelled a signed $134 million contract to build a modern military training facility for Russia. This cancellation was the result of the growing list of economic sanctions on Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Many Russians fear the Ukrainian land-grab will cause major economic damage, but in the case of this German contract, the loss will mainly be to Russian efforts to modernize and upgrade their armed forces. This training center contract was to enable Russia to join the United States, Germany, China, Israel, and many other major military powers who are benefitting from the use of instrumented combat training centers. Russia had hired the German firm (Rheinmetall), which built such a training range in 2008 for Germany to basically build a very similar one in Russia.
This is all based on a breakthrough training system developed by the U.S. Army in 1982. This is the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acre) facility in the Mohave Desert at Ft Irwin, California. There, the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops in the 1980s with the development of MILES (laser tag) equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities), combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and a few built their own NTC clones. NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises.
For more than a decade Israel has been using and expanding its own NTC. This is a 39,000 hectare (98,000 acre) Tactical Training Center (TTC) at Ze'elim in the Negev desert. In addition to wide open areas for the training of armor, infantry, and artillery units, there are several villages and urban areas wired for training troops to fight in close quarters. Israel has now developed a portable version of this technology and many other innovations as well.
China opened its own version of NTC in 2010. The Chinese NTC is a big deal. It means the Chinese are really serious about training their ground combat troops to the highest standards. This kind of training is serious stuff, in part because it's expensive to use an NTC. Not just the fuel and ammo the troops will use, but the expense of a staff to run the NTC, and perform as OPFOR (opposing force). American intelligence officers track which units go through the Chinese NTC and mark them as likely to be much more effective in combat.
Ft Irwin itself has been expanded and since the 1980s the United States has established many similar training centers, all using lots of electronics to assist the trainees in having a realistic experience while also enabling them to see their mistakes and learn from them. Israeli and American manufacturers have individually, or through collaboration, developed new features for NTC type facilities. These include portable equipment that can allow any area to be wired to provide the same effect (constant monitoring, and recording, of everything everyone does). There are also VPUs (Vehicle Player Units) that make Hummers appear as armored vehicles (tanks, infantry vehicles, or artillery) to the monitoring system, and save a lot of money (by not using the real thing). There is also a system that releases different colored smoke when a vehicle is hit, indicating if it is damaged or destroyed. Helicopters and warplanes, for example, are being wired to operate as part of NTC exercises.
NTC type training is not only very close to the experience troops get in actual combat, but it also stresses commanders the same way actual combat does. This enables commanders to test themselves, and their subordinate commanders, before they get into a real fight. You can also uses NTC type facilities to experiment with new tactics, in addition to keeping troops well trained in whatever the current tactics are. This includes counter-terror operations as well as the kind of novel combat tactics that might be encountered in the future.
One of the critical aspects of this type of training is the playback. Instructors can edit the electronic record of who did what when and show commanders and troops where they made mistakes. This feedback makes the troops much more effective in the future.
Russia has already said it is planning to buy from China many of the items that are now unavailable from suppliers in the West because of sanctions. At first this meant precision manufactured items (electronic and mechanical) that Russia does not yet produce. China is ahead of Russia in this area, but still behind the West. More importantly China is willing to do business with Russia. China could also supply a modern military training center. Perhaps not one as good as the Germans were offering, but one that is probably good enough.