Education and training

  • Last updated 27-Oct-2010 16:02

NATO conducts education and training to ensure its forces are effective and interoperable, as part of its cooperation with non-member countries, and as part of NATO-led operations.

Historically, NATO education and training has been focused on ensuring that military forces from member countries can work together effectively in operations and missions. Today, NATO education and training functions have expanded significantly. NATO has a network of training schools and institutions, conducts regular exercises and runs training programmes as far away as Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. 

The three main purposes are to enhance the interoperability and effectiveness of NATO-led multinational forces, assist Partner countries in their reform efforts, and help bring peace and stability to crisis-hit areas.

Purpose and practical implementation

Enhancing interoperability

Troops for NATO operations are drawn from the forces of NATO member and Partner countries, as well as non-NATO and non-Partner countries such as New Zealand and Australia.

Ensuring that these multinational forces can work together effectively despite differences in tactics, doctrine, training, structures, and language is a priority for NATO. This “interoperability” is built in a number of ways.

Courses and seminars

NATO’s network of training institutions offers a broad range of courses on both strategic and operational issues. While courses differ, they tend to focus on knowledge and skills required by individuals who will occupy senior or specialized positions within the structure of the Alliance, or who hold NATO-related posts in their own countries.

For instance, the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, is NATO’s primary strategic-level educational facility and includes areas of study such as trends in the international security environment and their potential effects on NATO countries. It provides training for senior commanders whereas the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, is the primary operational-level training centre for students. Operational-level training focuses on joint planning of NATO operations, logistics, communications, civil emergency planning, or civil-military cooperation.

Courses can last anywhere from a day to several months depending on the type of activity. The Senior Course at the NATO Defence College, for instance, is a six-month course for senior commanders, whereas the civil-military cooperation course at the NATO School lasts a week and is tailored to mid-level operators.

As well as being open to personnel from NATO member countries, many courses and seminars are available to personnel from countries participating in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as selected “contact countries” (non-member and non-Partner countries). Some are also open to civilian participants.


Exercises provide opportunities to test and validate all aspects of NATO operations, including procedures, concepts, systems, and tactics. They also build and reinforce interoperability by focusing on practical training for personnel from NATO countries and countries with which the Alliance cooperates.

During an exercise, forces will typically be asked to respond to a fictional scenario that approximates what might occur in real life. This allows them to employ their previous training and experience in a practical way, and increases their level of readiness should they be deployed in a crisis.

Exercises cover the full range of military operations, from combat to humanitarian relief to stabilization and reconstruction. They can vary in length and scope, from a few senior officers working on an isolated problem to full-scale combat scenarios involving aircraft, ships, artillery pieces, armoured vehicles and thousands of troops. NATO also exercises its strategic-level political and military arrangements. This ensures that its consultation and decision-making architecture is refined and that key players are kept aware of how the Alliance works.

NATO partners are heavily involved in exercises as participants and hosts through the Military Training and Education Programme.  

Experimentation and development

NATO is constantly trying to improve the way its forces operate. In line with its transformation agenda, the Alliance is continuing to focus on development of new concepts and capabilities to ensure future NATO forces are trained and equipped to the highest possible standard.

NATO countries conduct their own experimentation. The Alliance -- through Allied Command Transformation and its subordinate bodies -- provides a forum for members to engage in knowledge-sharing regarding concepts and capabilities.  

NATO also develops new concepts and capabilities to benefit NATO forces. For instance, the NATO Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy, has developed technologies and training for underwater reconnaissance and port protection. A separate initiative called the “NATO Friendly Force Tracker” helps to promote interoperability and is being employed in Afghanistan to help NATO-led forces better coordinate their actions and reduce the possibility of casualties.

Working with NATO Partners on defence reform

NATO members have reduced levels of military personnel, equipment and bases from Cold War levels, and transformed their forces to meet today’s needs. Many Partner countries are still going through this process, often with scarce resources and limited expertise.

The Alliance’s education and training programmes – initially focused on increasing interoperability between NATO and Partner forces – have been expanded to provide a means for members and Partners to collaborate on education and training for defence reform. These include courses and seminars, a training network, tailor-made assistance and access to NATO experts.

Furthermore, in 2005, NATO began development of an “Education and Training for Defence Reform” initiative that provides a framework for cooperation for both military and civilian personnel.

Courses, seminars and exercises

Countries which work with NATO through its various cooperation frameworks, as well as personnel from so-called “contact countries”, are able to participate in an array of NATO education and training activities - courses, roundtables, seminars, and workshops.

Partnership education and training network

In addition to NATO-funded institutions such as the NATO Defense College and NATO School, member and Partner countries have established a specialized network of institutions that support enhanced education and training. See the section “The training bodies and institutions” for detailed information on this network.

Tailor-made education and training

Each country participating in defence reform, in consultation with NATO, agrees on an individualized programme which varies in depth and breadth, depending on its interests and level of commitment and cooperation. This can include – in addition to participation in courses, seminars, and exercises – tailor-made education and training programmes such as on-the-job training, language training, and resettlement and retaining of redundant military personnel.

For instance, in Ukraine NATO has financed and implemented language and management courses in cooperation with Ukraine’s National Coordination Centre, which is in charge of the social adaptation of redundant military servicemen.

“Mobile education and training teams” (METTs) are another example of the tools the Alliance employs in response to Partners’ defence reform needs. METTs are small groups of trainers who travel to the interested countries to deliver training tailored to the local context.

Advice and expertise

NATO countries are among the most advanced in the world in terms of defence capabilities. Countries cooperating with the Alliance on defence reform are able take advantage of this expertise. For most countries, this is done through the Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process (PARP).

Countries with special relationships with NATO can have additional mechanisms for exchanging advice and expertise. For instance, the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defence Reform provides a forum through which consultation can take place on initiatives as diverse as civil-military relations, democratic oversight and civilian management of the armed forces and other security sector agencies, defence planning, policy, strategy and national security concepts.

Training initiative for Mediterranean and Middle East

A dedicated Middle East faculty has been established at the NATO Defense College in Rome as part of the NATO Regional Cooperation Course.

Education and training in NATO-led operations

NATO’s efforts to bring stability to crisis areas go beyond deploying troops. Through training and education programmes, NATO is helping countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq develop their own security institutions and provide for their own security.


An important aspect of NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan is assisting the country in developing its security structures and forces. While the United States is the lead country for training the Afghan National Army (ANA), NATO is assisting and supporting this process. This includes special courses to train Afghan soldiers in specific skills and to prepare them to work in tandem with NATO forces. The Alliance has also deployed Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams to Afghan National Army units at various levels of command. These are small groups of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers (NCO) that coach and mentor the ANA units to which they are attached.

In 2006, NATO signed a declaration with Afghanistan, establishing a substantial programme of long-term co-operation. The Afghan Cooperation Programme provides for further training assistance, including opening NATO courses and partnership activities to Afghan participation, providing advice and expertise on defence reform and the development of security institutions, as well as specific assistance such as language training.

NATO and Russia also are collaborating through the NATO-Russia Council on a counter-narcotics training pilot project tailored to Afghan and Central Asian personnel.

The African Union

At the request of the African Union (AU), NATO assisted the AU (June 2005-end December 2007) in strengthening its peacekeeping force in Darfur in a bid to halt the continuing violence. Initially, NATO’s support consisted in training AU troops in strategic-level planning and operational procedures. It provided support to a UN-led map exercise and later, in summer 2006, also provided training assistance in the fields of pre-deployment certification and “lessons learned”, as well as information management.


Since 2004, NATO has been helping Iraq provide for its own security by training Iraqi personnel and supporting the development of the country’s security institutions.

NATO is training and mentoring middle and senior level personnel from the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and outside of Iraq, at NATO schools and training centres. The Alliance also plays a role in co-ordinating offers of equipment and training from individual NATO and Partner countries.

The training bodies and institutions

There are a number of main bodies through which training is organized and run. Some operate under the direction of the Alliance and others are external, but complementary to Alliance structures.

Allied Command Operations

Allied Command Operations was created as part of the reorganization of NATO’s command structure in 2002. It has the main responsibility for collective training, exercises, and evaluating headquarters and formations.

Allied Command Transformation

Allied Command Transformation (AC-T) is located in Norfolk, Virginia, and as its name indicates, leads NATO transformation.

To help realize this objective, AC-T holds lead responsibility for NATO and PfP joint education, individual training, and associated policy and doctrine development as well as for directing NATO schools. It also works closely with Allied Command Operations to support the planning, execution, and assessment of exercises.

NATO’s principal and ancillary educational facilities
The principal educational facilities

The NATO Defense College

At the strategic level, the NATO Defense College in Rome is NATO’s foremost academic institution. It contributes to Alliance objectives by developing its role as a major centre of education, study and research on transatlantic security issues. Founded in 1951, several thousand senior officers, diplomats, and officials have since passed through its doors.

Its main tasks are to help prepare both civilian and military leaders for senior appointments within NATO; conduct outreach activities directed at PfP and Mediterranean Dialogue countries; and provide fresh perspectives to NATO decision-makers. It also provides an annual venue, through the Conference of Commandants of EAPC Defence Academies, for an exchange of views on how they conduct business. The 2009 Conference will more specifically be dedicated to the Comprehensive Approach, Partnerships and Education.

The NATO School

The NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, operates under the auspices of AC-T, but also supplies training support to operations. It is NATO’s key operational-level training facility, providing short-term, multidisciplinary training tailored to military and civilian personnel from NATO, PfP, Mediterranean Dialogue and “contact countries”. As part of its support for NATO operations, the NATO School has also hosted personnel from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, it serves as a facilitator for the harmonization of programmes with 15 PfP Training and Education Centres.

The NATO Communications and Information Systems School

Located in Latina, Italy, the NATO Communications and Information Systems School (NCISS) is one of the Alliance’s key training institutions. It provides advanced training for civilian and military personnel from NATO and non-NATO countries in the operation and maintenance of the Alliance’s communications and information systems. Like the NATO School, NCISS falls under the direction of Allied Command Transformation but provides support to NATO-led operations.

The ancillary facilities

Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre

This is NATO’s centre for performing joint analysis of operations, training, exercises and experiments. Part of its responsibilities includes establishing and maintaining an interactive Lessons Learned Database.

Joint Force Training Centre

JFTC conducts training to improve interoperability at the tactical level. It also helps in NATO doctrine development by cooperating with Centres of Excellence.

Joint Warfare Centre

The Joint Warfare Centre and its subordinate body, the Joint Lessons Learned Centre, conduct experimentation, analysis, doctrine development, and exercise evaluation with a particular focus on joint and combined staffs.

NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre

This Centre leads efforts to improve the Alliance's capability to conduct interdiction operations at sea.

NATO Undersea Research Centre

This institution conducts research and testing to address NATO's maritime requirements. Activities are carried out to support NATO’s current operational requirements and to support its transformation agenda.

Additional training institutions and organizations

The following training institutions and organizations have a relationship with NATO but are not related to the Alliance in the same way as the NATO Defense College or the NATO School. They are typically administered by sponsor countries, national authorities or civil organizations, but are open to participation by personnel from NATO member and partner countries.

Centres of Excellence

These are training centres that have been recognized by AC-T as providers of high-quality education and training to the Euro-Atlantic community. They span NATO member and Partner countries and provide a broad network of support for NATO education and training activities.

They are funded nationally or multi-nationally and their relationship with NATO is formalized through memoranda of understanding. The first Centres of Excellence to be fully accredited by NATO were the Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Germany, and the Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence in Turkey. Since, then more have been established:

  • the Command & Control Centre and the Civilian Military Cooperation Centre in The Netherlands;
  • the Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre in the United States;
  • the Cold Weather Operations Centre in Norway;
  • the Joint Air Power Competence Centre, the Confined and Shallow Water Centre and the Military Engineering Centre in Germany;
  • the Naval Mine Warfare Centre in Belgium;
  • the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Defence Centre in the Czech Republic;
  • the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre in Estonia; and
  • the Centre for Analysis & Simulation for the Preparation of Air Operations in France.

NATO/Partnership for Peace Education and Training Network

The NATO/Partnership for Peace Education and Training Network was established by AC-T in 2004. It is a structure where military education and training institutions can meet to facilitate the exchange of information and experience, and harmonize activities. This helps avoid duplication of effort.

Partnership for Peace Education and Training Centres

PfP Education and Training Centres focus on the operational and tactical levels. Each one has a different area of expertise and provides enhanced training and facilities for personnel from all PfP countries. There are currently fifteen PfP Training Centres:

  • Centre for Operations Preparation (Austria)
  • Peace Support Operations Training Centre (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  • Defence Forces International Centre (Finland)
  • UN Training Centre (Germany)
  • Multinational Peace Support Operations Training Centre (Greece)
  • Regional Training Centre for Defence Resources Management (Romania)
  • Crisis Management and Multinational Operations College (Romania)
  • National Defence Academy (Slovakia)
  • Language Training Centre (Slovenia)
  • Armed Forces International Training Centre (Sweden)
  • Centre for Security Policy (Switzerland)
  • Training Centre (Turkey)
  • Training Centre (Ukraine)
  • United Kingdom Defence Academy (United Kingdom)
  • Naval Postgraduate School (United States)

The NATO School chairs the annual conference of the Commandants of the PfP Education and Training Centres. This programme has been opened to the Mediterrannean Dialogue (MD) and to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI)

Partnership for Peace Simulation Network

The PfP Simulation Network links remote sites via satellite, providing senior commanders and staff officers the means to put into practice various aspects of command and control in realistic scenarios. This initiative supports PfP training by promoting greater interoperability.

Partnership for Peace Consortium of Defence Academies and Security Studies Institutes

The PfP Consortium was established in 1999 to help promote education in topics related to security. It does this by facilitating cooperation between both civilian and military institutions in NATO and PfP countries in support of NATO priorities. These priorities include programmes and initiatives such as the Partnership Action Plan for Defence Institution Building (PAP-DIB) or Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs), the Training and Education Enhancement Programme (TEEP) and the Education and Training for Defence Reform Initiative. Participating organizations include universities, research institutions and training centres.

The PfP Consortium operates by establishing working groups that bring together experts, policy-makers, and defence and security practitioners to pool information and develop products (such as educational tools or scholarly publications). 

Recently the PfP Consortium has produced what is called a reference curriculum on PAP-DIB. This document aims to provide Partner countries with in-depth learning objectives and curriculum support for academic courses focused on reforming or building defence institutions. The PfP Consortium is also running an Educator’s Programme to familiarize Partners with modern teaching methodologies and is supporting Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in education-related aspects of their IPAPs.

The George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies forms the Secretariat.

Education and training: a key activity since 1949

Collective education and training has been ongoing since the inception of the Alliance in 1949. Over time, it has expanded dramatically and has become an integral aspect of the Alliance’s ability to provide security.


In the early years of the Alliance, NATO forces conducted joint training to strengthen their ability to practice collective defence. In other words, education and training was conducted to ensure that forces were prepared in the case of an attack.

An integrated force under centralized command

An integrated force under centralized command was called for in September 1950. The first Supreme Commander Europe, US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was appointed in December 1950. Following this appointment, national forces were put under centralized command.

The Alliance’s first exercises

The Alliance’s first exercises were held in the autumn of 1951. During 1953, there were approximately 100 exercises of various kinds conducted by NATO. From this point on, NATO forces began to gain cohesion.

Education for individuals

Individual education soon followed. The need for a specialized setting to explore issues unique to the Alliance was first recognized by General Eisenhower in April 1951. The NATO Defense College was inaugurated later that year, on 19 November and was transferred to Rome in 1966, where it is still located.

The NATO Communications and Information Systems School in Latina, Italy was established in 1959, when a civil contractor began to train a small number of NATO personnel on what would become NATO's ‘ACE HIGH Communications System.’ And on 2 May of the same year, the NATO Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy was commissioned.

In 1971, the Military Committee established the NATO Training Group. The NATO Training Group met for many years in joint session with the Euro-training sub-group, which was set up to improve multinational training arrangements between European states.

In 1975 the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, received its charter and present name. For almost twenty five years, its principal focus was on issues relating to NATO collective defence.

NATO training opens to partners

Since the end of the Cold War, the Alliance has increased its political engagement with non-member countries and opened its education and training to these countries.

PfP countries

When NATO invited former Warsaw Pact countries, former Soviet Republics and non-member Western European countries to join the PfP programme in 1994, participating countries committed to increase interoperability with NATO forces. This opened the way for joint training and marked the beginning of NATO’s support for defence reform.

NATO training institutions soon followed suit. The first officers’ course for Partner countries was conducted in October 1994 at the NATO Communications and Information Systems School. Similarly, the NATO Defense College integrated PfP issues into its Senior Course.

Mediterranean Dialogue countries

The Mediterranean Dialogue was likewise created in 1994, initially as a forum for political dialogue. In 1997, at a meeting in Sintra, Portugal, the Alliance decided to open selected military training activities to countries participating in this initiative (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia).

Increasing cooperation with all partners

In 1998, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council approved the creation of the Partnership for Peace Consortium, which included PfP Training Centres and the PfP Simulation Network.

At the 1999 Washington Summit, NATO leaders approved plans for an Enhanced and More Operational Partnership. This enhanced military cooperation through the creation of sub-initiatives such as the Training and Education Enhancement Programme (TEEP). In addition, with the revision of the NATO Strategic Concept in 1999, the role of the NATO School was fundamentally altered to include cooperation and dialogue with civilian personnel from non-NATO countries. 

In May 2002, the Joint Analysis & Lessons Learned Centre in Monsanto, Portugal was established. This facility’s mission is to perform joint analysis and experimentation of operations, training and exercises, also with Partners.

In February 2005, the North Atlantic Council noted the Education and Training for Defence Reform (EfR). EfR helps EAPC educators incorporate principles linked to defence institution building into their curricula. Since the courses are aimed at civil servants and other persons participating in defence institution building, they contribute indirectly to improving defence reform.

Transformation through training

With the creation of the two new strategic commands in 2002, the coordination and coherence of NATO education and training activities was greatly increased. This led to the creation of additional training institutions and initiatives.

New training centres

A Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway was inaugurated on 23 October 2003.

The Joint Force Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland, inaugurated on 31 March 2004, supports training for both NATO and Partner forces to improve joint and combined tactical interoperability. AC-T also developed a NATO/Partnership for Peace Education and Training Network in 2004.

Stepping up training and partnerships

At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, Alliance leaders elevated the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative to a genuine partnership, to include increased participation in exercises and individual training at NATO institutions. Provision was also made for cooperation on defence reform. At the same time, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) was introduced, which paved the way for cooperation between NATO and countries from the broader Middle East in areas such as education and training.

This summit also made provision for Partners to engage in joint training for terrorism and to train jointly with the NATO Response Force.

NATO’s efforts on defence reform gained added momentum with the creation of the Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building, which outlines what NATO and Partners want to achieve in this area. Increased emphasis on defence reform meant that the 1999 Training and Education Enhancement Programme took on a defence reform role.

The assistance of NATO-led EAPC teams of experts

One concrete element of assistance in education and training is the visits to Partner countries by multinational teams of experts. These NATO-led visits aim to address the various education and training requirements listed in the Action Plans. The South Caucasus countries and Moldova have been targets of such visits; the most recent one took place in March 2009 in Georgia.