NATO Response Force

  • Last updated: 23 Feb. 2015 11:31

The NATO Response Force (NRF) is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces (SOF) components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. In addition to its operational role, the NRF can be used for greater cooperation in education and training, increased exercises and better use of technology.

In light of the changing security environment to the east and south of the Alliance’s borders, NATO Defence Ministers decided on 5 February 2015 to enhance the NRF by creating a “spearhead force” within it.  Known as a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), it will be able to deploy at very short notice, particularly on the periphery of NATO’s territory. The VJTF consists of a land component of around 5,000 troops with appropriate air, maritime and SOF units available.  This enhanced NRF is a concrete result of the measures endorsed at the 2014 Wales Summit. It aims to strengthen the Alliance’s collective defence and ensure that NATO has the right forces in the right place at the right time.

The VJTF is centred on a multinational brigade with up to five manoeuvre battalions with some elements ready to move within two to three days. France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom will assume the role of framework nation (or lead nation) for rotations of this force in the coming years. In the meantime, an Interim VJTF capability has been established for 2015 led by Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, with other Allies participating, and has already started training and exercising. The VJTF would be backed up by two more brigades as a rapid-reinforcement capability in case of a major crisis. Altogether, the enhanced NATO Response Force will count up to around 30,000 troops.

  • Purpose

    The NRF has the overarching purpose of being able to provide a rapid military response to an emerging crisis, whether for collective-defence purposes or for other crisis-response operations.

    The NRF gives the Alliance the means to respond swiftly to various types of crises anywhere in the world. It is also a driving engine for NATO’s military transformation.

    A rotational force

    The NRF is based on a rotational system where Allied nations commit land, air, maritime or SOF units for a period of 12 months.

    The NRF is also open to partner countries, once approved by the North Atlantic Council.

    Participation in the NRF is preceded by national preparation, followed by training with other participants in the multinational force. As units rotate through the NRF, the associated high standards, concepts and technologies are gradually spread throughout the Alliance, thereby fulfilling one of the key purposes of the NATO Response Force – the further transformation of Allied forces.

    Operational command of the NRF currently alternates among NATO’s Joint Force Commands in Brunssum, the Netherlands and Naples, Italy.

    A powerful package

    The NATO Response Force has:

    • a multinational land brigade with up to five manoeuvre battalions with some elements ready to move within two to three days;
    • two additional multinational brigades held at lower readiness;
    • a maritime component based on the Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) and the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group (SNMCMG);
    • a combat air and air-support component;
    • Special Operations Forces; and
    • a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence task force.

    Before use, the NRF will be tailored (adjusted in size and capability) to match the demands of any specific operation to which it is committed.

    Any mission, anywhere

    The NRF provides a visible assurance of NATO’s cohesion and commitment to deterrence and collective defence. Each NRF rotation has to prepare itself for a wide range of tasks. These include contributing to the preservation of territorial integrity, making a demonstration of force, peace support operations, disaster relief, protecting critical infrastructure and security operations. Initial-entry operations are conducted jointly as part of a larger force to facilitate the arrival of follow-on troops.

    Elements of the NRF helped protect the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and were deployed to support the Afghan presidential elections in September of the same year.

    The NRF has also been used in disaster relief.

    • In September and October 2005, aircraft from the NATO Response Force delivered relief supplies donated by NATO member and partner countries to the United States to assist in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
    • From October 2005 to February 2006, elements of the NRF were used in the disaster relief effort in Pakistan, following the devastating 8 October earthquake. Aircraft from the NRF were used in an air bridge that delivered almost 3,500 tons of urgently needed supplies to Pakistan, while engineers and medical personnel from the NATO Response Force were deployed to the country to assist in the relief effort.
  • Evolution

    The NATO Response Force initiative was announced at the Prague Summit in November 2002.

    In the words of General James Jones, the then NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, "… NATO will no longer have the large, massed units that were necessary for the Cold War, but will have agile and capable forces at Graduated Readiness levels that will better prepare the Alliance to meet any threat that it is likely to face in this 21st century."

    The NRF concept was approved by Allied Ministers of Defence in June 2003 in Brussels.

    On 13 October 2004, at an informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Poiana Brasov, Romania, the NATO Secretary General and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) formally announced that NRF had reached its initial operational capability and was ready to take on the full range of missions.

    The capabilities of the NRF were tested in a major live exercise, Steadfast Jaguar 06, in the Cape Verde Islands in June 2006. The challenging location was specifically designed to demonstrate and prove the viability of the NRF concept. At NATO's Riga Summit in November 2006, the NRF was declared fully ready to undertake operations.

    Since then, the way the NRF is generated and composed has been adjusted twice, in 2008 and 2010. This was to provide a more flexible approach to force generation, thereby facilitating force contributions which were being hampered by the enduring high operational tempo arising from Iraq, Afghanistan and other missions. To further support force generation, Allies have set themselves voluntary national targets for force contributions.

    On 21 February 2013, NATO Defence Ministers agreed that the NRF will be at the core of the Connected Forces Initiative in order to maintain NATO’s readiness and combat effectiveness.

    At the Wales Summit in September 2014, Allies decided to enhance the NRF and to establish a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) that will be able to deploy within a few days to respond to challenges that arise. Allies also agreed to hold a multinational, high-visibility exercise, “Trident Juncture 2015”, to be hosted by Italy, Portugal and Spain.  In addition, a broader and more demanding exercise programme will start in 2016, with the NRF as a key element in the exercises.  

  • Authority

    Any decision to use the NRF is a consensual political decision, taken on a case-by-case basis by all 28 Allies in the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s principal political decision-making body.