The New NATO Force Structure

International Military Staff

  • Last updated: 04 Jan. 2011 11:36


In accordance with the Washington Summit of 1999, the NATO military authorities agreed in July 2001 on the principles and parameters of the ‘new’ NATO Force Structure (NFS). The new force structure would provide the Alliance with rapidly deployable, mobile, sustainable and flexible multinational forces and their command and control capabilities. The implementation of the new force structure was part of the adaptation of NATO to the rapidly changing security environment. This new force structure is fundamental and far-reaching for the success of NATO’s future operational capabilities.

Nature of the new structure

The NATO Force Structure encompasses national and multinational forces and their associated operational headquarters, placed under the Alliance’s disposal on a permanent or temporary basis under specified readiness criteria. There is a difference between the NATO Command Structure and the NATO Force Structure. The Command Structure has a strategic scope, primarily intended to command and control the Alliance’s joint operations (i.e. operations in which more than one service are involved). The NATO Command Structure was first revised in 1997. At their meeting on 12/13 June 2003, Defence Ministers agreed on the design of a new streamlined military Command Structure, more flexible and better able to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century. The NATO Force Structure is tactical in scope and provides additional command and control capabilities at the single service level. It is at present in the process of radical changes:

New requirements

Under the new concept, NATO forces should be able to rapidly deploy to crisis areas and remain sustainable, be it within or outside NATO’s territory, in support of both Article 5 and Non-Article 5 operations. The successful deployments of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) to two NATO-led Balkan operations [the Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1995 and the Kosovo Force (KFOR) in 1999 in Kosovo] are early examples of non-Article 5 crisis response operations.

The new NFS will have its largest impact on land forces. Maritime and air forces are by nature already highly mobile and deployable, and often at a high state of readiness. Most of NATO’s landbased assets, however, have traditionally been static and have had limited (strategic) mobility. In the new structure, land forces should also be highly deployable and have tactical and strategic mobility. The mobility requirement will have great impact on the Alliance’s transport and logistic resources (sea, land and air based). The need for quick reaction requires a certain amount of highly trained forces that are readily available. Further, interoperability (the ability of forces to co-operate together with other units) and sustainability (the ability to continue an operation over an extended period of time) are essential elements of this new force structure.


To express the Alliance’s solidarity and its political cohesiveness and to enhance flexibility, there is also a need for multinationality among the member nations. In the case of NATO-led crisis response operations, there must be room for the participation of Partner nations and other non-NATO nations. Last but not least, adequate co-ordination mechanisms with other international organisations must be ensured during these operations.

Forces with graduated readiness levels

High Readiness Forces and Forces of Lower Readiness:

There will be forces of two different kinds of readiness posture. First, forces with a higher state of readiness and availability, the so-called High Readiness Forces (HRF) able to react on short notice. Second, forces with a lower state of readiness (FLR) to reinforce and sustain the HRF. Graduated Readiness Headquarters are being developed to provide these forces with command and control facilities.

  • Land forces. Their deployable headquarters will be able to command and control assigned forces up to the corps-size level. A wide range of options will also be available to command and control land forces at the brigade and divisional level to operate as stand-alone formation or subordinated to a higher HQ.
  • Maritime forces. Their deployable headquarters will be able to command and control assigned forces up to the NATO Task Force level. A wide range of options will also be available to command and control maritime forces at the NATO Task Force Unit level to operate as stand-alone formation or subordinated to a higher HQ.
  • Air forces. Air forces will use the air command and control facilities of the present NATO Command Structure.


According to the new criteria, the following High Readiness Forces (Land) Headquarters have been assessed and validated:

  • The Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) HQ in Rheindalen, Germany, with the United Kingdom as framework nation;
  • The Rapid Deployable German-Netherlands Corps HQ based on the 1st German-Netherlands Corps HQ in Munster, Germany;
  • The Rapid Deployable Italian Corps HQ based on the Italian Rapid Reaction Corps HQ in Solbiate Olona, close to Milan, Italy;
  • The Rapid Deployable Spanish Corps HQ based on the Spanish Corps HQ in Valencia, Spain;
  • The Rapid Deployable Turkish Corps HQ based on the 3rd Turkish Corps HQ near Istanbul, Turkey;
  • The EUROCORPS HQ in Strasbourg, France, sponsored by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Spain. The EUROCORPS HQ which has a different international military status based on the Strasbourg Treaty, has signed a technical arrangement with Allied Command Operations (ACO) and can also be committed to NATO missions.

The following candidates for Forces of Lower Readiness (Land) Headquarters are still in the process of validation:

  • The Multinational Corps HQ North-East in Szczecin, Poland, sponsored by Denmark, Germany and Poland;
  • The Greek “C” Corps HQ near Thessaloniki, Greece;
  • The II HQ Polish Corps in Krakow, Poland.

Certification of the following High Readiness Forces (Maritime) Headquarters will be finalised by 2004:

  • Headquarters Commander Italian Maritime Forces on board Italy’s INS GARIBALDI;
  • Headquarters Commander Spanish Maritime Forces (HQ COMSPMARFOR) on board SNS CASTILLA;
  • Headquarters Commander United Kingdom Maritime Forces (HQ COMUKMARFOR) on board HMS ARK ROYAL.

Nations are investing significant energy and resources into the new headquarters. The good progress that sponsor nations have achieved in preparing their Graduated Readiness (Land) Headquarters has allowed NATO to disband some of the existing force Headquarters since they are no longer required.

The NATO Response Force

On 15th October 2003, Allied Command Operations will inaugurate the new NATO Response Force (NRF), a force which brings together all of the above criteria to form a robust rapid reaction capability, deployable and sustainable wherever it may be required. The concept of the NRF was approved at the NATO Defence Ministers meetings on 12/13 June 2003. This joint, multinational, technologically advanced force will be able to deploy in 5 days and remain sustainable for 30 days. This force is expected to reach initial operational capability within one year and full operational capability by Autumn 2006. The NRF will come under the operational command of Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters Brunssum (JFC HQ Brunssum).