Readiness Action Plan
The Readiness Action Plan (RAP) is a comprehensive package of assurance and adaptation measures that are part of the baseline of the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture. Agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit, the RAP was an essential driver of NATO’s military adaptation to the evolving security environment, and it launched the most significant reinforcement of NATO's collective defence since the end of the Cold War. At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, Allied Leaders welcomed its implementation and agreed additional measures to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture.
Polish soldiers from the NATO Response Force (NRF) stand ready to begin a live-fire exercise alongside French and Romanian troops at the NATO multinational battlegroup in Romania. The NRF was enhanced under the Readiness Action Plan.
- Due to the changed security environment in the Euro-Atlantic area since 2014, the RAP includes assurance measures for NATO Allies in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, deter potential aggression and reinforce their defence.
- Assurance measures comprise a series of land, sea and air activities in, on and around the eastern part of Alliance territory, which are reinforced by exercises focused on collective defence and crisis management.
- The RAP also includes adaptation measures, which are longer-term changes to NATO’s forces and command structure so that the Alliance will be better able to react swiftly and decisively to sudden crises.
- Adaptation measures agreed under the RAP in 2014 included tripling the size of the NATO Response Force (NRF), the establishment of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) able to deploy at very short notice, and enhanced Standing Naval Forces.
- To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the RAP also led to the creation of eight NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – in Central and Eastern Europe. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters was set up.
- In December 2015, Allies further agreed on tailored assurance measures for Türkiye to respond to the growing security challenges from the south.
- At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, Allies welcomed the implementation of the RAP and agreed that its assurance and adaptation measures will continue to form the baseline of the Alliance’s posture. Allies also agreed to further strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture, including by establishing a forward presence in the eastern and southeastern part of Alliance territory and a framework for NATO’s adaptation in response to growing challenges and threats emanating from the south.
- Allies continue to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence. Following Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Allies further enhanced NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance, ensuring that forces remain ready to respond to any development.
The assurance measures are a series of land, sea and air activities in, on and around the territory of NATO Allies in Central and Eastern Europe, designed to reinforce their defence, reassure their populations and deter potential aggression. These measures are a direct result of Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, Ukraine. They include a military presence in the east of the Alliance. All NATO Allies are contributing to these measures on a rotational basis. The measures can be stepped up or reduced as necessary, depending on the security situation.
Since May 2014, NATO has increased the number of fighter jets on air policing patrols over the Baltic States, and deployed fighter jets to Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. In December 2015, a further package of tailored assurance measures was agreed for Türkiye. The Alliance conducts regular AWACS surveillance flights over the territory of its eastern Allies, and maritime patrol aircraft flights along the eastern borders of Allied territory.
To provide assurance at sea, NATO deploys a number of multinational maritime forces such as two Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups patrolling the Baltic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, and an enlarged Standing NATO Maritime Group conducting maritime assurance measures in addition to counter-terrorism patrols.
NATO has increased the number of exercises it organises. Military exercises provide important opportunities to improve the ability of Allies and partners to work together and are a valuable demonstration of NATO's readiness to respond to potential threats. These exercises take place on land, at sea, in the air and in cyberspace with scenarios based on collective defence and crisis management.
Assurance measures are flexible and scalable in response to the evolving security situation, and are kept under annual review by the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s principal political decision-making body.
Adaptation measures are longer-term changes to NATO’s forces and command structure, which will make the Alliance better able to react swiftly and decisively to sudden crises.
These include the following:
An enhanced 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 Operations Forces (SOF) components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed.
At the 2014 Wales Summit, Allies decided to enhance the NRF to strengthen the Alliance’s collective defence and ensure that NATO has the right forces in the right place at the right time. The NRF consists of about 40,000 personnel – a major increase from the previous level of 13,000. Its size is dependent on the task it is needed for.
The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has overall command of the NRF. Each year on rotation, NATO’s two Joint Force Commands (based in Brunssum, the Netherlands and Naples, Italy) have operational command of the NRF.
Very High Readiness Joint Task Force
Within the NRF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) – a “spearhead force” of around 20,000 troops, of which about 5,000 are ground forces – is able to begin deployment within two to three days wherever it is needed. The VJTF land element is supported by air, maritime and SOF components.
Leadership and membership of the VJTF and NRF rotate among Allies on an annual basis. The VJTF and NRF forces are based in the lead countries, but able to deploy from there to wherever they are needed for exercises, crisis response or collective defence. The VJTF, which participated in its first deployment exercise in Poland in June 2015, is regularly tested during exercises.
NATO Force Integration Units
NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) are small, multinational headquarters that facilitate the rapid deployment of the VJTF and Allied follow-on forces. Each one is staffed by about 40 national and NATO specialists. Their task is to improve cooperation and coordination between NATO and national forces, as well as to prepare and support exercises and any deployments needed.
First, six NFIUs were established in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania and inaugurated in September 2015, constituting a visible and persistent NATO presence in these countries. Subsequently, two more NFIUs in Hungary and Slovakia were inaugurated, respectively, in September 2016 and January 2017.
High-readiness multinational headquarters
The Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarters (HQ MNC-NE) in Szczecin, Poland provides a high-readiness capability to command forces deployed to the Baltic States and Poland, if so required.
Established by Denmark, Germany and Poland, HQ MNC-NE has four main tasks:
- commanding the VJTF and NRF, or elements thereof, if deployed to the north-eastern region of NATO;
- exercising operational control over the NFIUs in Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia;
- monitoring the security situation in the region; and
- acting as a regional hub for cooperation.
The Multinational Division Southeast Headquarters (HQ MND-SE) in Bucharest, Romania is able to command forces deployed within NATO’s southeast region, including the VJTF and NRF, if necessary. It executes command and control over the NFIUs in Bulgaria and Romania. It also monitors the security situation in the region and acts as a hub for regional cooperation among Allies. The HQ MND-SE was inaugurated on 1 December 2015 and achieved final operational capability on 22 March 2018.
In addition, the RAP calls for a number of logistics enhancements, including the prepositioning of equipment and supplies, to enhance NATO's readiness to respond to any challenge to Allied security. A new standing joint logistics support group headquarters was established within the NATO Command Structure.
In September 2014, at the NATO Wales Summit, Allied Leaders approved the Readiness Action Plan to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. The plan provides a comprehensive package of measures to respond to the changes in the security environment in and near Europe and to threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
NATO Defence Ministers decided on 5 February 2015 that the VJTF would consist of a land component of around 5,000 troops with appropriate air, maritime and SOF units available. France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Türkiye and the United Kingdom agreed to assume lead roles for the VJTF on a rotational basis in the coming years. Ministers also set the goal of having an operationally capable VJTF by the 2016 Warsaw Summit – a goal that was met.
In April 2015, more than 1,500 troops took part in Exercise Noble Jump, designed to test whether troops assigned to NATO’s Interim VJTF could be ready to deploy 48 hours after receiving an order-to-move.
On 9 June 2015, the VJTF deployed for the first time in Poland during Exercise Noble Jump, where over 2,100 troops from nine NATO countries participated.
On 24 June 2015, NATO Defence Ministers took decisions on air, maritime and SOF components of the enhanced NRF, agreeing that it can consist of up to 40,000 personnel. Ministers further took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Allies also approved a new advance planning tool – Graduated Response Plans – enabling executable operations plans to be generated exceptionally quickly, commensurate with the readiness requirements of the forces. Allies also agreed on the establishment of a new standing joint logistics support group headquarters within the NATO Command Structure. Finally, Defence Ministers agreed that in October they would decide on the establishment of new NFIU HQs, in addition to the six existing multinational NFIU HQs.
In September 2015, NFIUs were inaugurated in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
In October 2015, NATO Defence Ministers gave their green light to the completed military concept for the enhanced NRF, including its command and control arrangements. They also agreed to set up two more NFIUs in Hungary and Slovakia.
In December 2015, NATO inaugurated the Multinational Division Southeast Headquarters in Bucharest, marking its official integration into the NATO Command Structure. The new, high-readiness headquarters is able to command forces deployed within NATO’s southeast region, supporting the Alliance’s defence. It is also a hub for regional cooperation among Allies.
In July 2016, at the Warsaw Summit, Allies welcomed the implementation of the Readiness Action Plan, affirmed that its assurance and adaptation measures would continue to form the baseline of the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture, and agreed to further strengthen this posture. The RAP provides the Alliance with a broad range of options to be able to respond to any threats from wherever they arise to protect Alliance territory, populations, airspace and sea lines of communication.
The last two NFIUs in Hungary and Slovakia were inaugurated, respectively, on 18 November 2016 and 24 January 2017.
At the 2018 Brussels Summit, NATO Leaders reiterated their resolve to bolster the Alliance's readiness, responsiveness and reinforcement to respond to threats from any direction in a 360-degree approach. A NATO Readiness Initiative was launched to enhance the Alliance's rapid-response capability, either for reinforcement of Allies in support of deterrence or collective defence, including for high-intensity warfighting, or for rapid military crisis intervention, if required. Since then, Allies have committed to providing 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships ready to use within 30 days or less and are working to build and maintain the level of readiness of these forces and organise them into larger formations.
At the 2021 Brussels Summit, Allied Leaders welcomed the significant progress made on implementing their previous decisions to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture, and reaffirmed their commitment to the full and speedy implementation of these decisions.
Following Russia’s brutal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Allies took further steps to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture, including in NATO member countries in the east of the Alliance. These steps have included activating NATO’s defence plans, deploying elements of the NRF, establishing additional multinational battlegroups and placing 40,000 troops on the Alliance’s eastern flank, along with significant air and naval assets, under direct NATO command supported by Allies’ national deployments. These measures – which remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory – ensure the security and defence of all Allies across all domains and with a 360-degree approach.