Allied Command Transformation

  • Last updated: 11 Nov. 2014 10:57

Allied Command Transformation (ACT) leads many initiatives designed to transform NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine. Its main responsibilities include education, training and exercises, as well as conducting experiments to assess new concepts, and promoting interoperability throughout the Alliance.


  • ACT leads the transformation of NATO’s military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine.
  • It is mainly responsible for education, training and exercises, conducting experiments to assess new concepts and promoting interoperability throughout NATO.
  • ACT is one of two strategic commands at the head of NATO’s military command structure.
  • It directs a small number of subordinate commands and has strong links with educational and training facilities, as well as with the Pentagon, other national entities and the NATO Force Structure in general.
  • It is headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, or SACT, who exercises his responsibilities from headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the United States.

ACT is one of two strategic commands in NATO, the other being Allied Command Operations (ACO). Together they form what is called the NATO Command Structure (NCS), whose prime function is first and foremost to provide the command and control needed to address threats and, should deterrence fail, an armed attack against the territory of any of the European1 Allies. Ultimately, the NCS plays an essential role in preserving cohesion and solidarity within the Alliance, maintaining and strengthening the vital transatlantic link and promoting the principle of equitable sharing among Allies of the roles, risks and responsibilities, as well as the benefits of collective defence.

Headquarters, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (HQ SACT), located in Norfolk, Virginia (United States) is the only NATO command in North America. It houses the command structure of ACT and directs ACT's various subordinate commands: the Joint Warfare Centre in Norway, the Joint Force Training Centre in Poland and the Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre in Portugal. It also has strong links with the Pentagon and other US military entities, national headquarters, NATO-accredited Centres of Excellence (see below for explanations), educational and training facilities, think-tanks and with the NATO Force Structure in general.2

The Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) is a four-star level flag or general officer. He is responsible to the Military Committee for the transformation and development of the Alliance to ensure it is capable of meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow. The Military Committee is the senior military authority in NATO and is under the overall political authority of the North Atlantic Council (NAC).

  • ACT’s role and structure

    ACT was created as part of a reorganisation of the NATO Command Structure in 2002. This was the first time in NATO’s history that a strategic command was solely dedicated to “transformation”, demonstrating the importance placed by Allies on the roles of transformation and development as continuous and essential drivers for change that will ensure the relevance of the Alliance in a rapidly evolving global security environment.

    ACT is organised around four principal functions:

    • strategic thinking;
    • the development of capabilities;
    • education, training and exercises; and
    • cooperation and engagement.

    These functions are reflected in the composition of ACT, which is comprised of the Norfolk Headquarters and three subordinate entities: one in Norway (Joint Warfare Centre), one in Poland (Joint Force Training Centre) and one in Portugal (Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre). ACT also includes a SACT representative at NATO Headquarters in Brussels and at the Pentagon outside Washington D.C., an ACT Staff Element at the ACO Headquarters - Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or SHAPE - and a shared Military Partnership Directorate (MPD) with ACO, also located at SHAPE.

    Additionally, NATO’s other education and training facilities and nationally-run entities, which are not part of the NCS, also coordinate with ACT. This includes the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, the NATO Communications and Information Systems School, Portugal (from 2016 or 2017 – currently located in Italy), the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre, Greece, and the nationally-run Centres of Excellence. NATO Agencies also interact with ACT on matters of common concern.  

    Strategic Plans and Policy

    The main responsibility of Strategic Plans and Policy is threefold: to develop and promote issues of strategic importance to transformation; articulate policies to direct Alliance transformation efforts; and support the development of NATO strategic-level concepts which clarify how transformation may be achieved.

    Capability Development

    This is a broad area which covers the entire capability development process, i.e., from the moment a need is identified to the production phase when a new capability is actually developed for the Alliance. Moreover, Capability Development provides a major contribution to the NATO Defence Planning Process improving interoperability, deployability and sustainability of Alliance forces. The Directorate focuses on science and technology, and maintains collaboration with industry to infuse innovative ideas and transformative principles into NATO capability development processes and products. In addition, it establishes and maintains a transformation network and constitutes a hub within the NATO organisation and between member countries to promote continuous reform of NATO forces, structures and processes.

    Joint Force Training

    Joint Force Training (JFT) directs and co-ordinates all ACT activities that are related to the conduct of individual and collective training and exercises. The aim is to continually provide the Alliance with improved capabilities and enable its forces to undertake the full spectrum of Alliance missions.

    SACT Representative in Europe

    The SACT Representative in Europe (SACTREPEUR) is located at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. As the name indicates, the SACTREPEUR represents SACT at NATO Headquarters, acting as SACT’s representative to the Military Committee and attending all relevant meetings – committee, working group or other. SACTREPEUR has the coordinating authority for all ACT engagements with NATO Headquarters and maintains strong links with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) through his counterpart - the SACEUR Representative (SACEUREP) - also based at NATO Headquarters.

    ACT Staff Element Europe

    The ACT Staff Element Europe (SEE) is co-located with ACO in Mons, Belgium. It deals primarily with defence and resource planning issues, as well as implementation. In doing so, it interacts with different NATO entities: the International Military Staff and the International Staff at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, with ACO, other NATO bodies and agencies and individual Allies.

    ACT Liaison Office to the Pentagon

    To help enhance NATO transformation, this office promotes effective links and direct coordination between ACT and the US Joint Staff and other departments in the US military headquarters (Pentagon), located outside Washington D.C. Through strong links with US military entities, the office establishes and maintains working relations with other governmental and non-governmental bodies in and around Washington D.C.

    Military Partnership Directorate

    The Military Partnership Directorate (MPD) provides direction, control, co-ordination, support and assessment of military cooperation activities across the Alliance. It directs and oversees all non-NATO country involvement in military partnership programmes, events and activities and coordinates and implements NATO plans and programmes in the area of partnership. The MPD is shared with ACO and is located at SHAPE in Mons, Belgium with a Staff Element at HQ SACT in Norfolk, Virginia.

    Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway

    The Joint Warfare Centre’s (JWC) main task is to train NATO forces at the operational level to ensure they remain interoperable and fully integrated. Its principal mission is the training of the NATO Response Force (NRF) Headquarters’ elements and NRF Component Headquarters’ elements.

    The JWC also seeks to improve NATO’s capabilities and interoperability by promoting and conducting NATO’s joint and combined experimentation, analysis and doctrine development processes.3

    The JWC assists ACT’s work with new technologies, modelling and simulation. It also conducts training on and works at developing new concepts and doctrine for joint and combined staffs. In addition, it performs collective staff training for partner countries and new NATO members.

    JWC assists ACO in evaluating joint force training and has formal links to both NATO agencies and national and multinational training centres.

    Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland

    The Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) focuses on joint and combined training of NATO forces at the tactical level. It focuses, in particular, on the conduct of tactical training to achieve joint interoperability at key interfaces - a critically important area identified during military combat in Afghanistan.

    The Centre provides support and expertise in the training of Alliance and partner forces, runs courses, conducts training and provides advice to a variety of audiences. It cooperates with national training centres, including Partnership for Peace (PfP) Training Centres and Centres of Excellence to ensure the application of NATO standards and doctrine in combined and joint fields.

    As a priority, JFTC provides expertise to help NRF joint and component commanders ensure that each NRF rotation achieves a high level of interoperability, flexibility and extensive training so as to be combat-ready at the beginning of a cycle of duty.

    Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre in Monsanto, Portugal

    The main role of the Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC) is to reinforce the process of continuous improvement of concepts, doctrine and capabilities within NATO through the transformation process, based on lessons learned from operations, training, exercises and experimentation.

    As such, JALLC conducts the analysis of real-world military operations, training, exercises and NATO Concept Development and Experimentation collective experiments, and is responsible for establishing and maintaining a lessons learned database. It ensures that key factors and lessons identified are characterised and appropriate action is proposed. The JALLC therefore contributes directly to improving operations through the identification of shortfalls in capabilities by delivering relevant, timely and useable lessons learned products.

  • ACT and other entities

    There are direct linkages between ACT and entities which are not part of the NATO Command Structure such as NATO educational facilities and agencies.

    NATO’s educational and training facilities

    The NATO Defense College

    At the political-strategic level, the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy is NATO’s foremost academic institution. It contributes to Alliance objectives by developing its role as a major centre of education, study and research on transatlantic security issues. Founded in 1951, several thousand senior officers, diplomats, and other officials have since passed through its doors.

    Its main tasks are to help prepare both civilian and military leaders for senior appointments within NATO; conduct outreach activities directed at partner countries; and provide fresh perspectives to NATO decision-makers. It also provides an annual venue, through the Conference of Commandants of Defence Academies, for an exchange of views on best practices across the Alliance and beyond.

    The NATO School

    The NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany operates under the auspices of ACT, but also supplies training support to operations. It is NATO’s key operational-level training facility, providing short-term, multidisciplinary individual training tailored to military and civilian personnel from NATO, PfP, Mediterranean Dialogue and global partners. As part of its support to NATO operations, the NATO School has hosted personnel from non-NATO countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, it serves as a facilitator for the harmonisation of programmes with the Partnership Training and Education Centres.

    The NATO Communications and Information Systems School

    Currently located in Latina, Italy (moving to Oeiras near Lisbon, Portugal in 2016 or 2017), the NATO Communications and Information Systems School (NCISS) is one of the Alliance’s key training institutions. It provides advanced training to civilian and military personnel from NATO and non-NATO countries in the operation and maintenance of the Alliance’s communications and information systems. Like the NATO School, NCISS falls under the guidance of ACT and provides support to NATO-led operations.

    NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre

    The NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) in Souda Bay, Greece is a multi-nationally manned facility. It conducts combined training for NATO forces to execute surface, sub-surface and aerial surveillance, and special operations activities in support of maritime interdiction operations.

    Centres of Excellence

    The role of these centres is to provide high-quality education and training to the Euro-Atlantic community.

    They are accredited by NATO, but are funded nationally or multi-nationally outside of the Organization’s command structure. Their relationship with NATO is formalised through memoranda of understanding.

    The first Centres of Excellence to be fully accredited by NATO were the Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Germany and the Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence in Turkey. Many more have been established since then.

  • Evolution

    Before 2002, the two Strategic Commands were Allied Command Europe (ACE), established in 1951 and Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT), created a year later in 1952.

    ACE, together with ACLANT, were streamlined at the end of the Cold War reducing the NATO Command Structure from 78 headquarters to 20. However, the two overarching Strategic Commanders (SC) were maintained, one for the Atlantic area and one for Europe.

    During the 2002 Prague Summit, a decision was made to reorganise the NATO Command Structure and make it leaner and more efficient. Additionally, Alliance thinking fundamentally shifted: the NATO Command Structure was to be based on functionality rather than geography. The former Allied Command Europe (ACE) became the Allied Command Operations (ACO), responsible for all Alliance operations, including the maritime operations previously undertaken by Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT). As such, one strategic command was focused on NATO’s operations -- Allied Command Operations with its headquarters in SHAPE -- and the other on transforming NATO -- Allied Command Transformation (ACT) with its Headquarters SACT.

    The NATO Command Structure was reviewed once more in June 2011 as part of a wider process of reform, not only to optimise the structure but to include new tasks derived from the 2010 Strategic Concept. The two strategic commands were maintained, as well as the Alliance’s levels of ambition, which is the ability of the Alliance to manage two major joint operations and six small joint operations, if required. This reform principally affected ACO. Where ACT is concerned, apart from developing stronger links with Centres of Excellence and the NATO Force Structure, the only physical change that stemmed from the reform was the move of what was previously known as the NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) (now the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation in La Spezia, Naples), to the agency structure of the Alliance as an organisational element linked to research.

  1. It is considered that whereas Article 5 applies to the entire NATO Treaty Area, the NATO Command Structure’s operational area of responsibility does not include the territory of the United States or Canada. This is not meant to imply that the NATO Command Structure should not be able to support the United States and Canada, should the territory of these two Allies be subject to an armed attack, but rather to acknowledge that defensive operations on the territory of these two Allies will be conducted, commanded and controlled in accordance with bilateral arrangements and not under the auspices of the NATO Command Structure.
  2. The NATO Force Structure consists of organisational arrangements that bring together the forces placed at the Alliance’s disposal by the member countries, along with their associated command and control structures. These forces are available for NATO operations in accordance with predetermined readiness criteria and with rules of deployment and transfer of authority to NATO command that can vary from country to country.
  3. 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.