As previously explained, ACO is a three-tier command with headquarters and supporting elements at the strategic, operational and tactical level. It exercises command and control of static and deployable headquarters, as well as joint and combined forces across the full range of the Alliance’s military missions. Joint forces are forces from two or more military departments working under a single command and combined forces are forces from different countries working under a single command.
SHAPE, at the strategic level, is at the head of six operational commands, two of which are supported by tactical (or component) level entities.
Allied Command Operations
Strategic level command: SHAPE
SHAPE is a strategic headquarters. Its role is to prepare, plan, conduct and execute NATO military operations, missions and tasks in order to achieve the strategic objectives of the Alliance. As such it contributes to the deterrence of aggression and the preservation of peace, security and the territorial integrity of Alliance.
ACO is headed by SACEUR, who exercises his responsibilities from SHAPE. Traditionally, he is a United States Flag or General officer. SACEUR is dual-hatted as the commander of the US European Command, which shares many of the same geographical responsibilities. SACEUR is responsible to the Military Committee, which is the senior military authority in NATO under the overall political authority of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). The Military Committee is the primary source of military advice to the NAC and NPG.
Operational level commands: Brunssum and Naples
The operational level consists of two standing Joint Force Commands (JFCs): one in Brunssum, the Netherlands, and one in Naples, Italy. Both have to be prepared to plan, conduct and sustain NATO operations of different size and scope. Effectively, they need to be able to manage a major joint operation either from their static location in Brunssum or Naples, or from a deployed headquarters when operating directly in a theatre of operation. In the latter case, the deployed headquarter is referred to as a Joint Task Force HQ or JTFHQ and should be able to operate for a period of up to one year.
When deployed, a Joint Force Command is only charged to command one operation at a time. However, the elements of the Joint Force Command which have not deployed can provide support to other operations and missions. When a Joint Force Command is not deployed, it can assist ACO in dealing with other headquarters which are deployed in theatre for day-to-day matters and assist, for instance, with the training and preparation for future rotations.
The two commands at this level are also responsible for engaging with key partners and regional organisations in order to support regional NATO HQ tasks and responsibilities, as directed by SACEUR. Additionally, they support the reinforcement of cooperation with partners participating in NATO operations and help to prepare partner countries for NATO membership.
Tactical level commands: Izmir, Northwood and Ramstein
Land, maritime and air commands
The tactical (or component) level consists of what is called Single Service Commands (SSCs): land, maritime and air commands. These service-specific commands provide expertise and support to the Joint Force Commands at the operational level in Brunssum or Naples. They report directly to SHAPE and come under the command of SACEUR.
- Land command, Headquarters Allied Land Command (HQ LANDCOM), Izmir, Turkey: this command’s role is to provide a deployable land command and control capability in support of a Joint Force Command running an operation larger than a major joint operation. It can also provide the core land capability for a joint operation (major or not) or a deployable command and control capability for a land operation. Izmir is also the principal land advisor for the Alliance and contributes to development and transformation, engagement and outreach within its area of expertise.
- Maritime command, Headquarters Allied Maritime Command (HQ MARCOM), Northwood, the United Kingdom: this command’s role is to provide command and control for the full spectrum of joint maritime operations and tasks. From its location in Northwood, it plans, conducts and supports joint maritime operations. It is also the Alliance’s principal maritime advisor and contributes to development and transformation, engagement and outreach within its area of expertise. Northwood is ready to command a small maritime joint operation or act as the maritime component in support of an operation larger than a major joint operation.
- Air command, Headquarters Allied Air Command (HQ AIRCOM), Ramstein, Germany: this command’s role is to plan and direct the air component of Alliance operations and missions, and the execution of Alliance air and missile defence operations and missions. Ramstein is also the Alliance’s principal air advisor and contributes to development and transformation, engagement and outreach within its area of expertise. Ramstein, with adequate support from within and outside the NATO Command Structure can provide command and control for a small joint air operation from its static location, i.e., from Ramstein or can act as Air Component Command to support an operation which is as big or bigger than a major joint operation.
To reinforce its capability, Ramstein has additional air command and control elements available: two Combined Air Operations Centres and a Deployable Air Command and Control Centre. The air elements are also structured in a more flexible way to take account of the experience gained in NATO-led operations.
Additional air support
To carry out its missions and tasks, HQ AIRCOM (Ramstein) is supported by Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOC) in Torrejon, Spain and in Uedem, Germany, as well as one Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC) in Poggio Renatico, Italy.
- CAOCs: both the CAOC in Spain and in Germany are composed of two parts. One part is a Static Air Defence Centre (SADC) responsible for air policing and the other, a Deployable Air Operations Centre (D-AOC), which supports operations. The D-AOC is an element focused on the production of combat plans and the conduct of combat operations. It has no territorial responsibilities assigned during peacetime, but supplements the HQ AIRCOM when required.
- DACCC: this entity based in Italy consists of three elements. Firstly, a DARS or Deployable Air Control Centre + Recognized Air Picture Production Centre + Sensor Fusion Post. The DARS is responsible for the control of air missions including surface-to-air missiles, air traffic management and control, area air surveillance and production of a recognised air picture and other tactical control functions; secondly, a D-AOC, which has the same role as a CAOC; and thirdly, a Deployable Sensors Section, which provides both air defence radar and passive electronic support measures tracker capabilities that are deployable.
Communication and information systems
Communication and information systems (CIS) have been split into two: the deployable CIS capabilities and the static CIS capabilities.
The NATO CIS Group based in Mons, Belgium will provide deployable communications and information systems support for ACO. The NATO CIS Group is responsible for the provision of all deployable CIS capabilities, as well as CIS operations and exercises planning and control. It acts as the coordinating authority for command and control services support to operations. The provision of the static and central CIS capabilities is the responsibility of the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA), which is not part of the NATO Command Structure.
The NATO Communication and Information Systems (CIS) Group will be supported by three NATO Signals Battalions located at Wesel, Germany, Grazzanise, Italy, and Bydgoszcz, Poland. These three will be complemented by various smaller elements (Deployable CIS modules) elsewhere.
STRIKFORNATO, AWACS and AGS
Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO), NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&CF) and Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) are part of the NATO Immediate Response Capability. They are multinational structures that are not part of the Command Structure, but are available for the Alliance and organized under Memorandums of Understanding and Technical Agreements (MOU/ TA) signed by the respective contributing countries.
STRIKFORNATO is a rapidly deployable maritime headquarters that provides scalable command and control across the full spectrum of the Alliance’s fundamental security tasks. It focuses on maritime operations and, as part of NATO reforms, has moved from Italy to Portugal. It comprises 11 participating countries and serves as a link for integrating US maritime forces into NATO operations.
Final agreement is awaited on the NATO NAEW&C Force. The Force Commander is conducting a comprehensive Force Review that will determine the size and shape of the Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) capability for the future and is adapting the capability to match the new manpower ceilings decided in the context of the new Command Structure. The NAEW&C Force comprises three elements: a multinational HQ (Mons) and two operational components, the multinational E-3A and the E-3D. NATO Air Base (NAB) Geilenkirchen, Germany, is home to 17 Boeing E-3A 'Sentry' AWACS aircrafts. NATO operates this fleet, which provides the Alliance with an immediately available airborne command and control (C2), air and maritime surveillance and battle-space management capability. The fleet of six Boeing E-3D aircraft based in Waddington, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, is manned by RAF personnel only. The United Kingdom exercises limited participation, but her fleet of E-3D aircraft is an integral part of the NAEW&C Force.
NATO is acquiring an Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will provide SACEUR with the capabilities for near real-time, continuous information and situational awareness concerning friendly, neutral and opposing ground and surface entities. The AGS system will consist of five Global Hawk Unmanned Airborne Vehicles and the associated command and control base stations, as well as support facilities provided by the AGS’ main operating base at Sigonella, Italy. Using advanced radar sensors, these systems will continuously detect and track moving objects and will provide radar imagery of areas of interest and stationary objects. The system will be fully trained and equipped to participate in NATO approved operations worldwide and available at graduated levels of readiness. It is expected to be available to the Alliance in the 2015-2017 timeframe.