Allied Command Transformation

  • Last updated: 03 Oct. 2018 11:24

Warfare development requires expert evaluation of trends and future threats, capability development, education, exercises, and the implementation of lessons learned. Allied Command Transformation (ACT) plays a central role in these unique missions, which aim to improve the readiness and credibility of NATO’s posture; they also contribute to allowing the NATO Command Structure (NCS) to efficiently command, control, and support current and future operations and provide a secure and stable transition to crisis and conflict, if need be.


  • ACT is one of two Strategic Commands at the head of NATO’s military command structure. The other is Allied Command Operations (ACO), which is responsible for the planning and execution of all NATO military operations.
  • ACT is headed by the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT),  who exercises his responsibilities from headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the United States. It is the only NATO command in North America.
  • SACT 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).
  • This Strategic Command directs various subordinate Joint Commands and has strong links with education and training facilities, as well as with ministries of defence.
  • ACT also has links with the NATO Force Structure (NFS) in general, which consists of forces placed at the Alliance’s disposal by the member countries, along with their associated command and control structures.(1)
  • ACT’s role and structure

    ACT together with ACO 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 European Allies.(2) Ultimately, the NCS plays an essential role in preserving cohesion and solidarity within the Alliance, maintaining and strengthening the vital link between Europe and North America, and promoting the principle of equitable sharing among Allies of the roles, risks and responsibilities, as well as the benefits of collective defence.

    ACT's role as warfare development command is two-fold: first, to enable ACO to efficiently conduct current operations; second, to prepare NATO's future operations. In this context, ACT ensures that NATO's warfare capabilities maintain future relevance, provides an indispensable understanding of the current and future security environment, and contributes to the development of NATO doctrine, concepts and interoperability standards.

    Achievement of a NATO Command Structure that is fit for purpose and fulfils NATO's three core tasks – collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security – can only be done with the strategic military expertise and interoperability provided by ACT with leverage of its network of nations, Joint Commands, and Centres of Excellence.

    ACT is organised around four principal functions:

    • strategic thinking;
    • 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, Belgium 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 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 to formulate policies, strategies, engagements and analytical practices that enable SACT to provide strategic foresight, planning, strategy and policy advice, concepts, and strategic engagement to NATO’s political and military leadership.

    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 Allied forces.

    Joint Force Development

    Joint Force Development has responsibilities for NATO Force Development Activities. The aim is to improve interoperability among NCS, NFS as well as interoperable partner forces allocated to NATO, and enhance capabilities, 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 acting as SACT's representative to the Military Committee and attending all relevant activities. 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. It deals primarily with defence and resource planning issues, as well as implementation.

    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.

    Military Partnership Directorate

    The Military Partnership Directorate (MPD) provides direction, control, coordination, 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 with a Staff Element at the ACT headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.

    Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway

    The Joint Warfare Centre's (JWC) main task is to train Allied 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. In addition, it performs collective staff training for partner countries and new NATO members.

    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)

    Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland

    The Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC) focuses on joint and combined training of Allied and partner 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.

    As a priority, the JFTC provides expertise to help NATO Response Force (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.

    The Centre 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.

    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, the 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.

  • 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 and training facilities and Centres of Excellence.

    NATO's educational and training facilities (NETFs)

    NATO Defense College

    At the political-strategic level, the NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, Italy is NATO's foremost academic institution. The mission of the NDC is to contribute to the effectiveness and cohesion of the Alliance by developing its role as a major centre of education, outreach and research on transatlantic security issues. Since its founding in 1951, several thousand senior officers, diplomats, and other officials have passed through its doors.

    NATO School

    The NATO School Oberammergau (NSO) in Germany is NATO's premier individual training and education facility at the operational level. The NSO conducts education and individual training in support of current and developing NATO operations, strategy, policy, doctrine and procedures. The NSO works closely with ACT to offer a broad curriculum geared to meet the challenges of a dynamic security environment.

    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

    Centres of Excellence (COEs) are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries, assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation.

    Coordinated by ACT, COEs are considered to be international military organisations. Although not part of the NATO Command Structure, they are part of a wider framework supporting NATO Command Arrangements. Designed to complement the Alliance's current resources, COEs cover a wide variety of areas, with each one focusing on a specific field of expertise to enhance NATO capabilities.

  • 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 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.

    In June 2018, NATO Defence Ministers agreed to move forward with an adapted NATO Command Structure (NCS-A) and the Detailed Implementation Plans (DIPlans). Both Strategic Commanders immediately initiated the new structures and capabilities, with ACO as the warfighting command and ACT as the warfare development command.

  1. Forces from the NATO Force Structure 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Joint forces are forces from two or more military services (for instance, land, maritime or air) working under a single command; combined forces are forces from different countries working under a single command.