NATO Air Command and Control System (ACCS)

  • Last updated: 16 Sep. 2014 17:21

The NATO Air Command and Control System (ACCS) is intended to combine and automate the planning, tasking and execution of all air operations at the tactical level.

In 2014, NATO ACCS will start to replace a wide variety of NATO and national air defence and air command and control systems currently fielded across the Alliance. For the first time, NATO ACCS will provide a unified air command and control system, enabling NATO and the nations to manage all types of air operations both over NATO European territory and when deployed out of area.  NATO ACCS will integrate air mission control, air traffic control, airspace surveillance, airspace management and force management functions among other functionalities.

NATO ACCS comprises cutting-edge technology and makes full use of up-to-date data link communications.  Using an open-system architecture, the system is designed to make it easier to add functionality, make necessary upgrades and address emerging operational requirement, such as theatre missile defence.  It also means that the Alliance is not dependent on a single contractor and so encourages competition among vendors.  This way NATO ACCS will be able to adapt to a changing operational environment and play a key role within the Alliance’s military doctrine of network-centric warfare as it will allow improved information-sharing and shared situational awareness to distributed sites in order to support collaboration on robust networks.

  • NATO ACCS in practice

    The NATO ACCS will be one of the major pillars of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS) capability.  For the first time, all air operations including air policing and defensive, offensive and support mission planning and execution will be provided by a unified, multi-entity system.

    Further, such operations will be undertaken from a range of static and deployable installations providing the same applications and using the same “look and feel” to give full operational interoperability.  Each of these physical entities will be interconnected and will communicate with each other over the NATO secure network infrastructure.

    The system: air command and control

    NATO ACCS will replace many existing NATO and national air defence systems and will extend the NATINAMDS to the member countries which joined the Alliance in more recent years.  Additional projects in support of NATO ACCS will, for example, enhance missile defence command and control capabilities and maintain NATO’s ability to operate in the Single European Sky environment. The Single European Sky is a European Commission initiative by which the design, management and regulation of airspace will be coordinated throughout the European Union.


    As well as static installations in the Alliance’s European Allies, the NATO ACCS programme will provide deployable capabilities to reinforce the static installation on Alliance territory and also on operations beyond NATO’s borders (of which Afghanistan is a recent example).


    NATO ACCS is a distributed computer system based on a common design and implemented through common hardware and software; it can essentially be viewed as a system of systems, particularly as the majority of the entities are located in NATO member countries, are nationally-manned and meet both NATO and national requirements.  All are dedicated systems which pool their resources and capabilities to create a new, more complex system offering greater functionality and performance than simply being the sum of the constituent parts.

    NATO ACCS also shares information with a multitude of external agencies and systems using common data definitions and making maximum use of NATO and international standards to ensure interoperability.

  • The scale of the programme

    In broad terms, the NATO ACCS programme comprises the following elements:

    • around 300 air surveillance sensor sites interconnected with more than 40 different radar types;
    • around 16 basic standard interfaces, links and data types;
    • around 550 external systems in 800 locations with 6,500 physical interfaces;
    • 81 million square kilometres of theatre of operations (not including deployable capability) from the northernmost point of Norway in the north of Europe to the easternmost point of Turkey in the south;
    • more than 13 million lines of integrated and delivered software code;
    • 27 operational site locations and deployable components;
    • 142 operator roles, more than 450 work positions and more than 60 servers; and
    • around 200 commercial off-the-shelf products providing operational tools.
  • Management

    The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency is responsible for procuring NATO ACCS and for delivering it to the operational community.

    The Air Command and Control (C2) Programme Office and Services (PO&S) of the NCI Agency, headed by a director, was created from a number of previous NATO bodies as a consequence of the NATO Agencies Reform in 2012.  The reorganisation is part of an ongoing NATO reform process which aims to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of capabilities and services, to achieve greater synergy between similar functions and to increase transparency and accountability.

    The Air C2 PO&S has the mandate to oversee NATO’s Air C2 programmes and is composed of experts from NATO nations, the majority of whom have backgrounds in the following disciplines: defence procurement, software and systems engineering, operations, logistics, quality assurance, configuration management, communications, test and evaluation, information technology, information security.  The Air C2 PO&S is presently located both on the NATO Headquarters compound in Brussels, Belgium and in Glons, Belgium.

  • Evolution

    Fifty years ago, NATO member countries recognised that protection of the airspace over the member states could be achieved more effectively if conducted cooperatively. Alliance nations delegated operational control of the air policing mission even in times of peace to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The component parts of the required air command and control system – surveillance assets, command and control networks, ground-based weapons systems and interceptor aircraft – operate coherently with NATO and national assets in a collective and holistic approach.

    The NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS), now the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS), was the first example of what has more recently been called “Smart Defence” – multinational cooperation employed to provide a necessary capability providing 24/7 protection and support to air policing.

    Systems must, of course, adapt to the changing political situation and threat. For example, the Cold War ended more than 20 years ago and the system required to defend the Alliance now must reflect the wide range of current threats. Ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, stealth aircraft and civil aircraft hijacked as weapons have been added to the threat spectrum; and the required capability to conduct operations outside NATO territories requires more flexible and deployable systems.

    Airspace as a resource is shared by civilian and military users, and consequently the management of airspace needs to be closely coordinated. Civilian initiatives like the Single European Sky or the North American NEXTGEN will apply changes to airspace management policy and procedures. NEXTGEN is an umbrella term for the ongoing transformation of the National Airspace System of the United States.