The ability to work together effectively and efficiently is the foundation of NATO’s success, giving the Alliance strength and capabilities beyond the sum of its parts. To carry out multinational operations, countries need to share a common set of standards – rules or guidelines that ensure mutual understanding and practical functionality – covering everything from ammunition sizes to rail gauges to the words that troops use to communicate with each other. Standardization helps the forces of NATO Allies and partners to achieve interoperability, allowing for more efficient use of resources and enhancing the Alliance’s operational effectiveness.
Standardization allows different countries to work with each other using well-established and familiar tools, like these maritime signal flags aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. (US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Danielle A. Brandt)
- NATO defines a standard as a “document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.”
- In practical terms, standards enable people from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds to have compatible equipment, to understand each other’s methods and procedures, and to operate smoothly even if they have just started working together. This is called interoperability, which is the ultimate goal of standardization.
- A Standardization Agreement (STANAG) is a NATO standardization document that specifies the agreement of member countries to implement a standard.
- NATO Allies have agreed hundreds of STANAGs over the years, covering a huge range of technical specifications for equipment and common practices. Some examples include equipment and procedures for air-to-air refuelling; common sizes, safety rules and tests to make ammunition interchangeable; specifications to make national communications systems compatible; and formats to facilitate sharing intelligence and other information.
The ability to act together coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve Allied tactical, operational and strategic objectives.
NATO standardization is the development and implementation of concepts, doctrines and procedures to achieve and maintain the required levels of compatibility, interchangeability or commonality needed to achieve interoperability.
Standardization affects the operational, procedural, materiel and administrative fields. Examples include a common doctrine for planning a campaign, standard procedures for transferring supplies between ships at sea and interoperable materiel such as fuel connections at airfields. It permits NATO member countries to work together, as well as with NATO partner countries, preventing duplication and promoting better use of economic resources.
A document, established by consensus and approved by a recognised body, that provides, for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.
NATO Standardization Agreement
A Standardization Agreement (STANAG) is a NATO standardization document that specifies the agreement of member nations to implement a standard, in whole or in part, with or without reservation, in order to meet an interoperability requirement.
The name given to both standards and standards-related documents published by NATO.
NATO standardization bodies
The importance of and need for standardization among Allies was acknowledged as early as 1950, one year after the Alliance was created. As a consequence, the Military Standardization Agency (MSA) was set up in 1951. Over the decades, as the Alliance’s standardization work evolved and grew, the MSA was succeeded by several other committees, boards and groups, resulting in the current NATO standardization bodies.
Committee for Standardization
Operating under the authority of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the Committee for Standardization (CS) issues policy and guidance for all NATO standardization activities. It is composed of representatives from all NATO nations. Its mission is to exert domain governance for standardization policy and management within the Alliance to contribute to Allies’ development of interoperable and cost-effective military forces and capabilities.
NATO Standardization Office
The NATO Standardization Office (NSO) initiates, coordinates, supports and administers NATO standardization activities conducted under the authority of the Committee for Standardization (CS). It also assists NATO’s Military Committee in developing military operational standardization. Its mission is to foster NATO standardization with the goal of enhancing the operational effectiveness of Alliance military forces.
NATO Standardization Staff Group
The NATO Standardization Staff Group (NSSG) assists the Director of the NSO. It is a staff-level forum that facilitates coherence of NATO standardization activities and procedures across NATO bodies, especially the standardization tasking authorities. The tasking authorities are senior NATO committees that can task subordinate groups to produce Standardization Agreements and Allied Publications.
Achievements and products
Alliance operations and missions cannot be effective or efficient without common standards. Partners’ force contributions to NATO-led operations and missions can only succeed by using the Alliance’s proven portfolio of standards in all standardization fields – operational, procedural, materiel and administrative.
The products of NATO’s standardization tasking authorities ensure that the armed forces of the Alliance and force-contributing partners can operate efficiently and effectively together.
The NATO Standardization Documents Database (NSDD) provides consolidated storage of all NATO standardization documents and their related information, including national ratification data.
The NATO Standardization Office (NSO) facilitates standardization contributions to the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) to achieve interoperability. The NDPP aims to coordinate national and multinational development of forces and capabilities for the full range of Allied operations and missions. Standardization contributions to the NDPP enhance the interoperability of those forces and capabilities.
STANAGs and Allied Publications promulgated by the NSO are essential for the NATO Evaluation Programme, which is under the responsibility of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). This programme provides SACEUR with a statement describing a unit’s capability to execute its assigned mission. Furthermore, NATO standards are needed to certify units that are selected to become part of the NATO Response Force.\
NATO terminology is stored and managed by the NATO Terminology Database, called NATOTerm, which contains more than 10,000 definitions of NATO terms, helping to promote common understanding.