On 3 March 2000, the air command of the North Atlantic Alliance in Europe was reorganised from three into two regions: Region North and Region South, divided by the Alps. In the new structure, the number of NATO headquarters has been reduced from over 60 to just 20. This article looks at how the resulting leaner, more flexible structure of AIRNORTH will be better able to deal with the unpredictable challenges of the new strategic environment, through closer air command and control (C2), a region-wide air policing structure, and greater flexibility and deployability.
The reorganisation of NATOs air command has chiefly affected Europes Northern Region, which saw the amalgamation of the old AFCENT and AFNORTHWEST to form the new AFNORTH. The regional air headquarters, HQ AIRNORTH, is located at Ramstein in southern Germany. This restructuring is chiefly in response to the replacement of the old monolithic threat from the East by the new, dispersed, and uncertain threat of the new strategic environment.
Closer ties between air command and execution
The five Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) are the execution arm of COMAIRNORTH, the Regional Air Commander. They are responsible for the daily tasking, control and assessment of air missions from the flying bases across the region. Under the new structure, the CAOCs have for the first time become permanent detachments of HQ AIRNORTH, making it possible for us to structure, man and train them to an alliance-wide common standard. Thanks to this plug and play structures, each CAOC, from northern Norway to southern Turkey, will be able easily to expand, contract or augment other CAOCs, so that air assets can be tactically controlled, wherever and whenever required.
Robust air policing
We have already successfully created a stable Recognised Air Picture across the entire Northern Region, including the Czech Republic and Poland. This ensures complete radar coverage of our skies for the purposes of air policing and the critical maintenance of air sovereignty.
Cross Border Air Policing has been extremely successful between Germany and the Benelux countries. The expansion of this process will continue towards seamless, borderless region-wide interoperability for all our CAOCs and fighter aircraft. The Czech and Polish units currently under the tactical control of the multinationally manned CAOCs 2 and 4 in Germany respectively with their two-way secure communications systems are a notable example of this interoperability. A key aspect will be the adoption of common readiness states and optimising the standardisation of weapons loads.
This will enable us to police our skies with total flexibility across the whole of the Region, from northern Norway to the Alps.
The JFACC deployable airpower
The Joint Forces Air Component Command (JFACC) is the air component of the deployable Combined Joint Task Force. It would be set up and deployed wherever required to fulfil NATO duties; for example, in response to a crisis such as seen in Kosovo last year. The core manpower for a JFACC would come from key staff within HQ AIRNORTH who are spearheading the development of NATO JFACC doctrine and procedures augmented by trained external personnel. The AIRNORTH JFACC represents a formidable capability light and lean, ready and able to deploy within hours to command airpower, wherever required in todays unpredictable security environment.
A leaner more flexible structure
The first steps towards a leaner, more flexible structure have been taken. The Czech Republic and Poland are well on the way to being fully integrated into the new AIRNORTH structure, which encompasses the old Areas of Responsibility (AORs) of the Northwest and Central Regions.
As NATO in Europe adopts its new, two-region structure, the closer, more proactive relationship with our execution arms, the CAOCs, will ensure our readiness to act decisively in the future. The continued development of our air policing system will provide seamless, harmonised air security throughout the whole Northern Region. And the advancement of the JFACC concept, together with the dedicated training and resourcing of a JFACC at Ramstein, promises a formidable capability ready to command airpower, wherever and whenever required.
This new airpower structure will strengthen NATOs capacity to fulfil its role as a peacemaker, a peacekeeper, and a major international force for stability.