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 force gives NATO the means to respond swiftly to various types of crises anywhere in the world. It is also a driving engine of NATO’s military transformation.
A rotational force
The NRF is based on a rotational system where nations commit land, air, maritime or Special Operations Forces units to the Immediate Response Force. Rotations were initially for a six-month period, but since 2012 the rotation periods have been extended to 12 months.
The flexibility offered by the Response Forces Pool, which permits nations to make contributions on their own terms, for durations of their choosing, is particularly relevant in this regard.
The NRF is also open to partner countries, once approved by the North Atlantic Council.
Participation in the Immediate Response Force 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 NRF – the further transformation of Allied forces.
Operational command of the NRF currently alternates among NATO’s Joint Force Commands in Brunssum and Naples.
A powerful package
The Immediate Response Force has:
- a brigade-sized land component based on three Battle Groups and their supporting elements;
- 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 force 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 rotation of the force 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 forces.
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 US to assist in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- From October 2005 to February 2006, elements of the NATO Response Force 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.