Multinational capability cooperation
To carry out its missions and tasks, NATO needs Allies to invest in interoperable, cutting-edge and cost-effective equipment. To that end, NATO plays an important role in helping countries decide how and where to invest in their defence. The Alliance also supports Allies in identifying and developing multinational cooperative projects to deliver the key defence capabilities needed for Alliance security.
- NATO is helping Allies and partner countries to identify opportunities for multinational capability cooperation and develop High Visibility Projects (HVPs) in key areas such as air-to-air refuelling, ammunition, maritime unmanned systems, command and control, and training.
- The aim is to drive down costs through economies of scale while improving operational values through increased commonality of equipment, training, doctrine and procedures.
- NATO works with the European Union to avoid duplication and ensure complementarity of efforts.
More background information
There are currently 14 projects underway that will deliver improved operational effectiveness, economies of scale and connectivity among NATO Allies and partners. These projects address key capability areas such as air-to-air refuelling, ammunition, maritime unmanned systems, command and control, and training.
In addition, countries continue to discuss promising areas for multinational cooperation in order to provide cost-effective security.
Command and control
Command and control (C2) consists of the leadership and direction given to a military organisation in the accomplishment of its mission. C2 is key in carrying out any NATO operation successfully and makes the operation work smoothly and efficiently. The projects below present examples of how C2 can be handled at a multinational level.
Composite Special Operations Component Command (C-SOCC)
Special Operations Forces today increasingly operate in a multinational context. This is why having a multinational headquarters for their management is key. NATO Allies Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands agreed to create a tri-national command – C-SOCC – which, after having become fully operational at the end of 2020, is participating in the NATO Response Force and could also be responsible for supporting multinational missions as well as NATO operations.
Regional Special Operations Component Command (R-SOCC)
Four Allies – Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia – and NATO partner Austria have agreed to put together, under Hungarian leadership, a regional deployable headquarters to manage Special Operations. Regional NATO Special Operations Forces across the Alliance will provide clear benefits in terms of speed and resilience to respond to arising crises. R-SOCC reached its Initial Operational Capability in May 2021, and Full Operational Capability is expected to be reached by the end of 2024.
All Allied forces – whether on land, in the air or at sea – need good training to confront a variety of security challenges and to perform their duties. Multinational training enables forces of different Allies to train together, improve coordination and cooperation, and increase their readiness.
Multinational Special Aviation Programme (MSAP)
Special Operations Forces are a highly valuable and versatile tool for effectively responding to evolving security threats. In order to further strengthen NATO in this domain, four Allies – Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia – have decided to create a Multinational Special Aviation Programme (MSAP) dedicated exclusively to training aircrews who will conduct the insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces.
This training facility, stationed in Zadar, Croatia, is being established in a gradual manner, expanding the training opportunities offered over time. The aviation training centre officially opened its doors on 11 December 2019, contributing to NATO’s adaptability and readiness. The first group of students graduated from a first training module in October 2020.
NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE)
Delivering state-of-the-art pilot training is an increasingly costly and challenging endeavour. For many European Allies, the national pilot requirements needed each year are too small to justify the establishment or maintenance of national flight centres. To overcome this challenge, the NFTE initiative aims to create a network of multinational training facilities for fighter jet, helicopter, fixed wing, and drone pilots across Europe, leveraging already existing structures to the maximum extent possible. The establishment of the NFTE will significantly decrease the current reliance on US training facilities by making European Allies capable of training their own flight crews in a multinational context. As such, the NFTE serves as an excellent example of transatlantic burden-sharing.
In the margins of the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels, 10 Allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Spain and Turkey – signed a Memorandum of Understanding for NFTE, which will see the establishment of the first multinational training campuses in the near future.
Equipment used in NATO operations and missions differs in size and cost. While some types of equipment are small and affordable, other capabilities may be too big or too expensive for single countries to operate in an economically viable way. Countries are cooperating on several high-end projects that they could not afford individually.
Multi Role Tanker Transport Capability (MRTT-C)
The MRTT is a multi-function aircraft that can serve to transport cargo, troops and as an aerial refuel tanker. Air-to-air refuelling tankers are especially critical for the projection of air power. As they are a pooled asset, interoperability is essential. The MRTT-C project enables the six participating Allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway – to collectively acquire Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft and establish a multinationally owned and operated fleet of MRTTs. The first aircraft was delivered in June 2020 and the last delivery is scheduled in 2024. For this initiative, NATO and the European Union (EU) joined forces, as both organisations identified shortfalls in air-to-air refuelling and the participating Allies, with the exception of Norway, are also members of the EU. As such, it is an example of the close cooperation between NATO and the EU.
Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft (M3A)
When it comes to maritime defence and security, it is vital for NATO to provide continuous situational awareness and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
As a shared starting point for future implementation activities, eight NATO Allies – Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and Turkey – created under the Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft project (M3A) a common set of requirements. France and Germany took a first step forward by starting to develop a Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS), which will serve as a maritime situational awareness tool.
Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS)
An increasingly important capability to secure NATO’s ability to actively respond to threats in the maritime area is unmanned systems. To facilitate multinational cooperation in this area, 16 NATO Allies – Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – and NATO partner Australia have joined forces via the MUS initiative to develop tailor-made solutions including, but not limited to, systems for detecting and clearing mines, and tracking submarines.
Next Generation Rotorcraft (NGRC)
Helicopters – or, broader, vertical lift capabilities – are an integral enabler for the operations of Allied forces. Yet a large percentage of helicopters in service are based on models introduced as far back as the 1960s. To ensure NATO’s technological edge, five Allies – France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom – signed a Letter of Intent in October 2020 to develop and acquire the next generation of medium multi-role helicopters, ready for an in-service date in the 2035-2040 timeframe. Through NGRC Allies will benefit of advances not only in airframe or propulsion technology, but also the digital infrastructure of the capability in order to make sure the capability will be ready to serve Allied forces for the next decades.
Modular Solution for Ground Based Air Defence Capabilities (Modular GBAD)
NATO has been working for years to strengthen its air and missile defence capabilities in order to protect its populations, territory and forces against increasingly sophisticated air threats. The Modular GBAD effort initiated in October 2020 by 10 Allies – Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom – aims to jointly develop and acquire a flexible and scalable GBAD system to counter air threats at very short, short and medium range. The system will be designed around a common Command and Control backbone. Due to its modular nature participants will be able to design tailored GBAD force packages for individual operations.
Rapidly Deployable Mobile Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM)
Effective protection of Allied forces and forward deployed bases against rockets, artillery and mortar threats is a key requirement to ensure NATO’s readiness. The C-RAM initiative launched in October 2020 by four Allies – Germany, Greece, Hungary and the United Kingdom – aims to develop and procure a rapidly deployable capability to detect and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortar rounds in the air, before they hit the ground. A particular focus may be on exploring highly innovative solutions to reduce operational cost while increasing resilience of the systems against high-volume attacks.
Ammunition is an essential part of every military operation. In order to ensure NATO Allies and partner countries are well equipped, four projects have been launched at multinational level.
Air Battle Decisive Munitions (ABDM)
The supply of sufficient inventories of air munitions is necessary for enabling NATO operations. This project is a multinational framework for acquiring all air battle decisive munitions and aims to increase the flexibility in stockpile management by reducing legal and technical obstacles for sharing and exchanging munitions among the 13 participating Allies – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, the United Kingdom – and partner country Finland. This will enable the Alliance to bridge the interoperability gap in this area, which NATO first encountered during its operation in Libya, as well as support the European Allies in reducing dependence on the United States when it comes to air missions. This framework has so far already delivered significant cost and time savings to its participants through several rounds of multinational acquisition.
Land Battle Decisive Munitions (LBDM)
Modelled after its parent project above, the LBDM project creates a multinational framework for acquiring munitions for land domain. It currently gathers 20 Allies and three partner countries – Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, as well as Austria, Finland and Sweden – making it the largest of the High Visibility Projects. It will increase the Alliance’s ability to share munitions and work more smoothly in the field. Over time, this initiative will help troops increase their interoperability and effectiveness, harmonise munitions inventories and enable participants to operate seamlessly and effectively together.
Maritime Battle Decisive Munitions (MBDM)
NATO Allies Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and partner country Finland agreed to combine munitions purchases in the maritime domain, including surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, torpedoes and gun shells. The potential establishment of common warehousing solutions could lower costs even further. This effort presents an important first step towards creating European stockpiles of high-quality maritime munitions that meet the Alliance’s evolving needs.
Multinational Ammunition Warehousing Initiative (MAWI)
Ammunition storage is a vital element of NATO’s stockpile planning and a key enabler for NATO operations. In the aftermath of the 2021 Brussels Summit in June, NATO Defence Ministers from Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Spain started this initiative to define a single operational principle under which the participants can create and operate a wide range of warehousing solutions for Allies and partners. The scalable, expandable and flexible approach will give participating countries the option to adapt the storage solution to their needs while benefitting from significant cost reductions.
Allies are constantly exploring new multinational initiatives to develop the key capabilities the Alliance needs when facing today’s security challenges.
NATO’s High Visibility Projects (HVPs) focus on delivering the most critical capabilities in an accelerated manner by creating political commitments in the form of agreements signed by defence ministers. An initial document, also called a Letter of Intent (LOI) – outlining the general cooperation idea – is signed by the defence ministers involved in the project. It is followed by the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a legally binding document specifying the details of cooperation. The MOUs provide the necessary legal framework for the execution of the implementation phase towards the delivery of the specific capability. The high-level political involvement dramatically increases the prospects of expedient and tangible progress.
In the implementation phase of most projects, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) plays an important role of intermediary between the countries and industry. This can happen at different levels: NSPA can invite industry to present solutions for Allies and partners to acquire, be involved in the procurement process, or even negotiate on behalf of countries with industry.