The NATO force structure

  • Last updated: 13 Feb. 2015 16:29


In accordance with the 1999 Washington Summit outcomes, the NATO military authorities agreed in July 2001 on the principles and parameters of a ‘new’ NATO Force Structure (NFS). This would provide the Alliance with rapidly deployable, mobile, sustainable and flexible multinational forces and their command and control capabilities.

At Lisbon Summit (Nov 2010), Alliance’s Heads of State and/or Government agreed on the design of a new streamlined NATO Command Structure (NCS) which should be more flexible and effective, leaner and affordable. More than ever before, to fulfil the mandated NATO's Level of Ambition (LoA), there needs to be considerable reliance on the deployable NFS. This force structure is fundamental and far-reaching for the success of NATO’s future operational capabilities.

Nature of the NFS structure

The NFS is composed of allied national and multinational forces and HQs placed at the Alliance’s disposal on a permanent or temporary basis under specific readiness criteria. These provide a pool of forces in order to allow for a high degree of flexibility to meet the requirements of conducting and sustaining operations.

Deployable headquarters from the NCS are most likely to be used, upon Council's decision, for the initial phase of an operation and also to provide command and control for permanent tasks. The NFS provides additional and follow-on Joint HQ capabilities, most of the tactical C2 capabilities and the forces to meet the full LoA. National contributions are made available to the Alliance for operations at appropriate graduated readiness states by agreed mechanisms for Transfer of Authority (TOA), in accordance with NATO policy and procedures. Forces committed for NATO operations and missions shall be placed under the authority of SACEUR and under the direction of the MC.

The relationship between NCS and NFS must ensure that the linkages between them are seamless, effective and responsive. This interdependence requires that all HQs that may command operation in theatre are trained and prepared to a common standard.

Forces at different readiness levels

In order to provide flexibility for conducting the full range of missions, as well as describing the availability of Allied Forces to NATO commanders, HQs and forces can be further sub-divided into two types of forces reflecting readiness levels: High Readiness Forces (HRF) and Forces of Lower Readiness (FLR). Together, HRF and FLR form the Graduated Readiness Forces (GRF). Graduated Readiness Forces Headquarters (GRF HQs) provide these forces with the appropriate command and control.

HRF readiness should range from 0 to 90 days and include capabilities for an immediate response (from 0 to 30 days and in the framework of the NATO Response Force). FLR should be reported with readiness ranges from 91 to 180 days and normally used to sustain deployed HQs and forces.

Graduated Readiness Forces and HQs

The NFS includes packages of capabilities consisting of GRF HQs (joint, land, air and maritime), Special operations and other combat forces and appropriate supporting assets. The NATO Defence Planning Process ensures that capabilities are made available by the nations (either individually, multinationally or collectively) in the requested quantity as well as with the appropriate quality, including their state of readiness.

Joint GRF HQs capable of commanding joint operations of differing scales to provide deployable joint command and control capabilities alongside the capabilities within the NCS, including their Joint Logistic Support Group (JLSG) HQ. This Joint capabilities are currently provided on the basis of GRF (Land) HQs.

NATO's Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force (CJ-CBRND-TF) provides a high readiness combined joint CBRN deployable force in support of NRF or other NATO commands and missions.

Land deployable headquarters will be able to command and control assigned forces up to the corps-size level. The following High Readiness Forces (Land) Headquarters are available to NATO:

  • The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) HQ in Gloucester, United Kingdom;
  • The Rapid Deployable German-Netherlands Corps HQ in Munster, Germany;
  • The NATO Rapid Deployable Corps-Italy HQ in Solbiate Olona;
  • The NATO Rapid Deployable Corps-Greece HQ in Thessaloniki;
  • The NATO Rapid Deployable Corps-Spain HQ in Valencia, Spain;
  • The NATO Rapid Deployable Corps-Turkey HQ in Istanbul;
  • The Rapid Reaction Corps-France HQ in Lille;
  • The EUROCORPS HQ in Strasbourg, France, sponsored by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. EUROCORPS HQ has a different international military status and is available to NATO through a technical arrangement with Allied Command Operations (ACO).
  • The Multinational Corps HQ North-East in Szczecin, Poland, sponsored by Denmark, Germany and Poland (in the process of increasing readiness as HRF);

Maritime deployable headquarters will be able to command and control assigned forces up to the NATO Task Force level. There are five High Readiness Forces (matitime):

  • Headquarters Commander Italian Maritime Forces;
  • Headquarters Commander French Maritime Forces;
  • Headquarters Commander Spanish Maritime Forces;
  • Headquarters Commander United Kingdom Maritime;
  • Headquarters Commander Striking and Support Forces NATO in Lisbon, Portugal;

For Crisis response operations, Air Command and Control operational structures are set on the basis of a Joint Force Air Component (JFAC). NATO Nations will provide personnel, through an augmentation process, to complement and to sustain the NCS JFAC. Few Nations can provide their own National JFACs as part of the NATO level of ambition. As of today, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the USA have JFAC capability. In a close future, other nations like Spain and Turkey are foreseen to get this capability as well.

NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEW&CF) provides Alliance operational commanders with airborne surveillance and battle management capability, trained, equipped and ready to participate in NATO operations worldwide. In the near future, DARS (deployable ARS) will complement NATO AWACS in the field of controlling Air assets and BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence).

The NATO Response Force

The NATO Response Force (NRF) is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and special forces components that the Alliance can deploy qickly to wherever it is needed. It’s mission is to provide a rapid demonstration of force and the early establishment of NATO military presence in support of an Article 5 or Crisis Response Operation and to be a catalyst for transformation of capabilities in the Alliance. It was first declared operational in 2003. The decision to use the NRF requires a consensual political decision, taken on a
case-by-case basis by the NAC.

The NRF has three main elements:

  • a military Headquarters to exercise command and control;
  • a “ready-to-go” Immediate Response Force: a joint force of up to 13,000 high-readiness troops provided by Allies;
  • a Response Forces Pool of around 15,000 follow-on forces, which can supplement the Immediate Response Force when necessary.

As with every NATO operation, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe has operational responsibility for deployed NATO forces. The operational command of the NRF alternates between NATO’s two Joint Force Commands in Brunssum and Naples.