NATO Defence Planning Process

  • Last updated: 30 Jan. 2017 13:36

Allies undertake to provide, individually or together, the forces and capabilities needed for NATO to fulfil its security and defence objectives. The NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) is the primary means to identify the required capabilities and promote their timely and coherent development and acquisition by Allies.

b060623al 15-28 June 2006 NATO Response Force (NRF) Exercise “Steadfast Jaguar” in the Cape Verde Islands - Amphibious landing operation


  • Through the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP), NATO identifies capabilities and promotes their development and acquisition by Allies so that it can meet its security and defence objectives.
  • By participating voluntarily in the NDPP, Allies can harmonise their national defence plans with those of NATO.
  • The NDPP is designed to influence national defence planning efforts and prioritises NATO's future capability requirements, apportions those requirements to each Ally as targets, facilitates their implementation and regularly assesses progress. 
  • NATO defence planning encompasses different domains: force, resource, armaments, logistics, C3 (consultation, command and control), civil emergency, air and missile defence, air traffic management, standardization, intelligence, military medical support, science and technology, and cyber.

An effective defence planning process is essential to deliver the collective political, military and resource advantages expected by NATO members.  By participating in the NDPP, and without compromising their national sovereignty, Allies can harmonise their national defence plans with those of NATO to identify, develop and deliver a fair share of the overall forces and capabilities needed for the Alliance to be able to undertake its full range of missions.

The NDPP is designed to influence national defence planning efforts and identifies and prioritises NATO’s future capability requirements, apportions those requirements to each Ally as targets, facilitates their implementation and regularly assesses progress.  It provides a framework for the harmonisation of national and Alliance defence planning activities aimed at the timely development and delivery of all the capabilities, military and non-military, needed to meet the agreed security and defence objectives inherent to the Strategic Concept.

The Defence Policy and Planning Committee (DPPC) is responsible for the development of policy and overall coordination and direction of activities related to defence planning.

The key characteristics of the NDPP are that:

  • It is a coherent and integrated process in which Allies choose to participate, on a voluntary basis, to deliver the required capabilities in the short, medium and long term.
  • It supports a capability-based approach but provides sufficient detail to assist participating countries and the Alliance to develop the forces necessary to undertake the full range of NATO missions.
  • It is sufficiently flexible to respond to the needs of both individual Allies and the Alliance, informs and guides national defence plans, provides transparency, promotes multinational approaches and offers opportunities to capitalise on best practices.

Efforts to enhance the NDPP, by making it more flexible and responsive, continue. The defence planning process evolves continuously; however two milestones stand out. In 2009, initiatives were taken to improve the harmonisation of the planning domains and Allies were encouraged to integrate their national defence planning activities to complement NATO efforts. Another milestone came earlier with the Alliance’s engagement in non-Article 5 operations. With collective defence war plans during the Cold War, members were expected to assign and employ the requested forces virtually without question. The non-Article 5 operations Allies have conducted since the fall of the Berlin Wall are, by agreement, on a case-by-case and the provision of national forces is discretionary. As such, the automaticity associated with force planning during the Cold War period was lost. This led to the need for “force generation conferences” to solicit the relevant forces and “operational planning” to develop the plans. Existing processes were adjusted and then reviewed on a regular basis in view of the changing security environment.

  • NATO Defence Planning Process

    The NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) consists of five steps conducted over a period of four years.

    Step 1 - Establish political guidance

    A single, unified political guidance for defence planning sets out the overall aims and objectives to be met by the Alliance. It translates guidance from higher strategic policy documents, such as the Strategic Concept, in sufficient detail to direct the defence planning efforts of the planning domains in order to determine the capabilities required.

    Political guidance aims at defining the number, scale and nature of the operations the Alliance should be able to conduct in the future (commonly referred to as NATO’s Level of Ambition).  It also defines the qualitative capability requirements to support this ambition. By doing so, it steers capability development efforts within the Allies and NATO. It defines associated priorities and timelines for use by the planning domains.

    Political guidance is normally reviewed every four years. The most recent was published in March 2011.

    Step 2 - Determine requirements

    NATO’s capability requirements (current and future) are consolidated into a single list called the Minimum Capability Requirements.  These requirements are identified by the planning domains and the two Strategic Commands (Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT)). ACT has the lead in determining the requirements. The process is structured, comprehensive, transparent and traceable and uses analytical tools coupled with relevant NATO expert analysis. This is done once every four years, although out-of-cycle activity for particular capabilities can be undertaken as circumstances dictate.

    Step 3 - Apportion requirements and set targets

    Target setting apportions the Minimum Capability Requirements to the Allies (either individually or as part of an agreed multinational undertaking) and NATO entities in the form of target packages. The apportionment process aims to apply the principles of fair burden-sharing and reasonable challenge.

    The Strategic Commands (with ACT in the lead) develop a target package for each Ally for existing and future capabilities, with associated priorities and timelines.  Targets are expressed in capability terms and are flexible enough to allow innovative solutions to be developed rather than replacing ‘like with like’.

    Once each Ally has been consulted, the International Staff replaces the Strategic Commands in leading the process.   Target packages are forwarded to Allies with a recommendation of which targets should be retained or removed.  Allies review these packages during a series of Multilateral Examinations and agree a target package for each Ally on the basis of “consensus minus one”, meaning that a single Ally cannot veto what otherwise would be a unanimous decision on its own target package.

    Agreed target packages are subsequently forwarded to Allies for submission to defence ministers for adoption.  A summary report is also prepared which includes an assessment of the potential risk and possible impact caused by the removal of targets from packages on the delivery of the Alliance’s Level of Ambition.

    Step 4 - Facilitate implementation

    This step assists national measures, facilitates multinational initiatives and directs NATO efforts to satisfy agreed targets and priorities in a coherent and timely manner. Unlike other steps in the process, this step – or function - is continuous in nature.

    Step 5 - Review results

    This step seeks to examine the degree to which NATO’s political objectives, ambitions and associated targets have been met and to offer feedback and direction for the next cycle of the defence planning process. Step 5 provides an overall assessment of the degree to which the Alliance’s forces and capabilities are able to meet the political guidance, including the NATO Level of Ambition. It is carried out by a Defence Planning Capability Review which scrutinises and assesses Allies’ defence and financial plans.

    Every two years, Allies complete a Defence Planning Capability Survey which seeks data on Allies’ national plans and policies, including efforts (national, multinational and collective) to address their capability targets. The survey also seeks information on the national inventory of military forces and associated capabilities, any relevant non-military capabilities potentially available for Alliance operations and national financial plans.

    Assessments for each participating Ally are produced. They constitute a comprehensive analysis of national plans and capabilities, including force structures, specific circumstances and priorities.  These assessments also include a statement by the Strategic Commands regarding the impact each country’s plans have on the ability of ACO to conduct missions. They may also include recommendations which seek to redirect resources from areas where the Alliance has a surfeit of capability, to deficiencies areas.

    The assessments are submitted for examination to the Defence Policy and Planning Committee (DPPC) for review and approval during a series of multilateral examinations. In parallel with and based on the Strategic Commands’ Suitability and Risk Assessment, the Military Committee develops a Suitability and Risk Assessment. It effectively provides a risk assessment on the military suitability of the plans and the degree of military risk associated with them in relation to political guidance for defence planning.

    On the basis of this and the individual assessments, the DPPC prepares a NATO Capabilities Report, highlighting individual and collective progress on capability development as it relates to NATO’s Level of Ambition.

  • Support structures

    • The senior committee for defence planning

    The DPPC is the senior committee for defence planning.  It is responsible for the development of defence planning-related policy and the overall coordination and direction of NDPP activities.  The DPPC is the central body that oversees the work of the NATO bodies and committees responsible for the planning domains on behalf of the North Atlantic Council (NAC).  It can provide feedback and defence planning process-related direction to them.  The DPPC will often meet with appropriate subject-matter experts invited to “reinforce” the regular representatives.  When meeting in this format, the DPPC is referred to as the DPPC “Reinforced” or DPPC(R).

    • Capability Development Executive Board

    The Capability Development Executive Board provides unity of oversight, policy, direction and guidance and enforces authority and accountability throughout NATO capability development.  It brings together the senior leadership of the relevant civil and military capability development stakeholders in the NATO staffs and acts as a steering board to direct staff efforts associated with NATO capability development in accordance with the guidance provided by Allies through the relevant committees.

    • Defence Planning staff

    The work of the DPPC and CDEB is supported by relevant NATO Defence Planning staff. This staff comprises civil and military expertise resident within the various NATO HQ staffs and Strategic Commands, and supports the NDPP throughout the five steps.

  • Planning domains and related committees

    NATO Defence Planning encompasses many different domains: force, resource, armaments, logistics, C3 (consultation, command and control), civil emergency, air and missile defence, air traffic management, standardization, intelligence, military medical support and science and technology. In April 2012, the integration of cyber defence into the NDPP began. Relevant cyber defence requirements are also identified and prioritised through the defence planning process.

    Force planning

    Force planning aims to promote the availability of national forces and capabilities for the full range of Alliance missions. It seeks to ensure that Allies develop modern, deployable, sustainable and interoperable forces and capabilities, which can undertake demanding operations wherever required, including being able to operate abroad with limited or no support from the country of destination.  The focus of force planning is on “capabilities” and how Allies should prioritise their resources to achieve these.

    Resource planning

    NATO resource planning focuses on the financing of capabilities that are jointly or commonly funded, where members pool resources within a NATO framework.  Resource planning is closely linked to operational planning.

    There is a distinction between joint funding and common funding: joint funding covers activities managed by NATO agencies, such as the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and NATO pipelines; common funding involves three different budgets; the civil budget, the military budget, and the NATO Security Investment Programme.

    These budgets are relatively small, but the specific use of each is key to ensuring the cohesion of the Alliance and the integration of capabilities.

    The Resource Policy and Planning Board

    The Resource Policy and Planning Board is the senior advisory body to the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on the management of all NATO resources. It has responsibility for the overall management of NATO’s civil and military budgets, as well as the NATO Security Investment Programme and manpower.

    Armaments planning

    Armaments planning focuses on the development of multinational (but not common-funded) armaments programmes. It promotes cost-effective acquisition, cooperative development and production of armaments.  It also encourages interoperability, and technological and industrial cooperation among Allies and partners.

    The Conference of National Armaments Directors 

    The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) is the senior NATO committee responsible for Alliance armaments cooperation, material standardization and defence procurement.  It brings together the top officials responsible for defence procurement in NATO member and partner countries to consider the political, economic and technical aspects of the development and procurement of equipment for NATO forces, with the aim of arriving at common solutions.

    Logistics planning

    Logistics planning aims at ensuring responsive and usable logistics support to NATO operations. This is achieved by promoting the development of military and civil logistics capabilities and multinational logistic cooperation.

    The Logistics Committee

    The Logistics Committee is the senior advisory body on logistics at NATO. Its mandate is two-fold: to address consumer logistics matters to enhance the performance, efficiency, sustainability and combat effectiveness of Alliance forces; to exercise, on behalf of the NAC, a coordinating authority across the NATO logistics spectrum.

    C3 planning

    NATO's political and military functions require the use of NATO and national consultation, command and control (C3) systems, services and facilities, supported by personnel and NATO-agreed doctrine, organisations and procedures.

    C3 systems include communications, information, navigation and identification systems as well as sensor and warning installation systems.  They are designed and operated in a networked and integrated form to meet the needs of NATO.  Individual C3 systems may be provided by NATO via common-funded programmes or by Allies via national, multinational or joint-funded cooperative programmes.

    There is no established C3 planning cycle which allows C3 planning to be responsive.  However, activities are harmonised with the cycles of the other associated planning disciplines.

    The Consultation, Command and Control (C3) Board

    The Consultation, Command and Control Board is a senior multinational body acting on behalf of and responsible to the NAC on all matters relating to NATO C3 issues.  This includes interoperability of NATO and national C3 systems, and advising the CNAD on C3 cooperative programs.

    Civil emergency planning

    Civil emergency planning aims to collect, analyse and share information on national planning activity to ensure the most effective use of civil resources for use during emergency situations, in accordance with Alliance objectives.  It enables Allies and partners to assist each other in preparing for and dealing with the consequences of crisis, disaster or conflict.

    The Civil Emergency Planning Committee

    The Civil Emergency Planning Committee is the top advisory body for the protection of civilian populations and the use of civil resources in support of NATO’s objectives.

    Air and missile defence planning

    Air and missile defence planning enables members to harmonise national efforts with international planning related to air command and control and air and missile defence weapons. The NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS) comprises sensors, command and control facilities and weapons systems, such as surface-based air defence and fighter aircraft.  It is a cornerstone of NATO’s air and missile defence policy, and a visible indication of cohesion, shared responsibility and solidarity across the Alliance.  A NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) programme has been initiated to enhance the previous NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence (NATINAD) system, particularly against theatre ballistic missiles.  

    The Air and Missile Defence Committee

    It is the senior multinational policy advisory and coordinating body regarding all elements of NATO’s integrated air and missile defence and relevant air power aspects in a joint approach.  It advises the NAC and the relevant Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council bodies on all elements of air defence, including missile defence and relevant air power aspects. It promotes harmonisation of national efforts with international planning related to air command and control and air defence weapons. It reports directly to the NAC and is supported by its Panel on Air and Missile Defence.

    The Military Committee Working Group (Air Defence) is responsible for reviewing, advising and making recommendations to the Military Committee on air and missile defence issues.

    Other groups dealing with air and missile defence-related issues include the DPPC(R) with particular responsibilities on ballistic missile defence, the Missile Defence Project Group, which oversees the BMD Programme Office, and the NATO-Russia Council Missile Defence Working Group.

    Air traffic management

    NATO's role in civil-military air traffic management is to ensure, in cooperation with other international organisations, the following: safe access to airspace, effective delivery of services and civil-military interoperability for air operations conducted in support of the Alliance's security tasks and missions.  The aim is to achieve these objectives while minimising disruption to civil aviation, already constrained by the limited capacity of systems and airports, and mitigating the cost implications of new civil technologies on defence budgets. 

    The Air Traffic Management Committee

    This committee is the senior civil-military advisory body to the NAC for airspace use and air traffic management. Its mission is to develop, represent and promote NATO’s view on matters related to safe and expeditious air operations in the airspace of NATO areas of responsibility and interest.


    At NATO, standardization is the process of developing shared concepts, doctrines, procedures and designs to achieve and maintain the most effective levels of “compatibility, interchangeability and commonality” in operations, procedures, materials, technology and administration.  The primary products of this process are Standardization Agreements (STANAGS) between member countries.

    The Committee for Standardization

    The Committee for Standardization is the senior authority of the Alliance responsible for providing coordinated advice to the NAC on overall standardization issues.


    Intelligence plays an important role in the defence planning process, especially with the emergence of multidirectional and multidimensional security challenges such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

    The Intelligence Steering Board

    The Intelligence Steering Board acts as an inter-service coordination body responsible for steering intelligence activities and for providing effective support to the decision-making process at NATO Headquarters.  It is tasked, among others, with developing the Strategic Intelligence Requirements from which any capability requirements are derived.

    The Civilian Intelligence Committee

    It is the sole body that handles civilian intelligence issues at NATO.  It reports directly to the NAC and advises it on matters of espionage and terrorist or related threats, which may affect the Alliance.

    The Military Intelligence Committee

    It is responsible for developing a work plan in particular in the areas of NATO intelligence support to operations and oversight of policy guidance on military intelligence.

    Military medical support

    Military medical support is normally a national responsibility; however planning needs to be flexible to consider multinational approaches. The degree of multi-nationality varies according to the circumstances of the mission and the participation of Allies.

    The Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO

    The Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO is composed of the senior military medical authorities of member countries. It acts as the central point for the development and coordination of military medical matters and for providing medical advice to the Military Committee.

    Science and technology

    NATO promotes and conducts cooperative research and information exchange to support the effective use of national defence science and technology and further the military needs of the Alliance.

    The NATO Science and Technology Organization

    The NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO) acts as NATO’s principal organisation for science and technology research.

    It is composed of a Science and Technology Board, Scientific and Technical Committees and three Executive Bodies (the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Collaboration Support Office, and the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation).

    The STO was created through the amalgamation of the Research and Technology Organization and the NATO Undersea Research Centre.  These bodies were brought together following a decision at the 2010 Lisbon Summit to reform the NATO agency structure.