Multinational capability cooperation
To carry out its missions and tasks, NATO needs Allies to invest in interoperable, cutting-edge and cost-effective equipment. To that end, NATO plays an important role in helping countries decide how and where to invest in their defence. The Alliance also supports Allies in identifying and developing multinational cooperative projects to deliver the key defence capabilities needed for Alliance security.
A fighter jet receives air-to-air refuelling from a Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, one of the multinational capabilities that Allies have developed together.
- NATO is helping Allies and partner countries to identify opportunities for multinational capability cooperation and develop High Visibility Projects (HVPs) in key areas such as air-to-air refuelling, ammunition, maritime unmanned systems, command and control, and training.
- The aim is to drive down costs through economies of scale while improving operational values through increased commonality of equipment, training, doctrine and procedures.
- NATO works with the European Union to avoid duplication and ensure complementarity of efforts.
There are currently 18 projects underway that will deliver improved operational effectiveness, economies of scale and connectivity among NATO Allies and partners. These projects address key capability areas such as air-to-air refuelling, ammunition, maritime unmanned systems, command and control, and training.
In addition, countries continue to discuss promising areas for multinational cooperation in order to provide cost-effective security.
Command and control
Command and control (C2) consists of the leadership and direction given to a military organisation in the accomplishment of its mission. C2 is key in carrying out any NATO operation successfully and makes the operation work smoothly and efficiently. The projects below present examples of how C2 can be handled at a multinational level.
Composite Special Operations Component Command (C-SOCC)
Special Operations Forces today increasingly operate in a multinational context. This is why having a multinational headquarters for their management is key. NATO Allies Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands agreed to create a tri-national command – C-SOCC – which, after having become fully operational at the end of 2020, is participating in the NATO Response Force and could also be responsible for supporting multinational missions as well as NATO operations.
Regional Special Operations Component Command (R-SOCC)
Four Allies – Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia – and NATO partner Austria have agreed to put together, under Hungarian leadership, a regional deployable headquarters to manage Special Operations. Regional NATO Special Operations Forces across the Alliance will provide clear benefits in terms of speed and resilience to respond to arising crises. R-SOCC reached its Initial Operational Capability in May 2021, and Full Operational Capability is expected to be reached by the end of 2024.
Command and Control Capability for Surface Based Air and Missile Defence for the Battalion and Brigade Level (SBAMD C2 Layer)
The SBAMD C2 Layer project aims to facilitate the potential acquisition and fielding of an air defence management solution to enable a layered surface-based air and missile defence approach. The commonly acquired SBAMD C2 Layer capability will reduce the number of systems currently in use by NATO Allies and therefore increase interoperability and resilience. This HVP involves eight NATO Allies: Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
All Allied forces – whether on land, in the air or at sea – need good training to confront a variety of security challenges and to perform their duties. Multinational training enables forces of different Allies to train together, improve coordination and cooperation, and increase their readiness.
Multinational Special Aviation Programme (MSAP)
Special Operations Forces are a highly valuable and versatile tool for effectively responding to evolving security threats. To further strengthen NATO in this domain, four Allies – Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia – have decided to create a Multinational Special Aviation Programme (MSAP) dedicated exclusively to training aircrews who will conduct the insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces.
This training facility, stationed in Zadar, Croatia, is being established in a gradual manner, expanding the training opportunities offered over time. The aviation training centre officially opened its doors on 11 December 2019, contributing to NATO's adaptability and readiness. The first group of students graduated from a first training module in October 2020.
NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE)
Delivering state-of-the-art pilot training is an increasingly costly and challenging endeavour. For many European Allies, the national pilot requirements needed each year are too small to justify the establishment or maintenance of national flight centres. To overcome this challenge, the NFTE initiative aims to create a network of multinational training facilities for fighter jet, helicopter, fixed wing, and drone pilots across Europe, leveraging already existing structures to the maximum extent possible. The establishment of the NFTE will significantly decrease the current reliance on US training facilities by making European Allies capable of training their own flight crews in a multinational context. As such, the NFTE serves as an excellent example of transatlantic burden-sharing.
In the margins of the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels, 10 Allies – Belgium, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Spain and Türkiye – signed a Memorandum of Understanding for NFTE, under which the first two training campuses have since been established, namely in Czechia and Italy.
Equipment used in NATO operations and missions differs in size and cost. While some types of equipment are small and affordable, other capabilities may be too big or too expensive for single countries to operate in an economically viable way. Countries are cooperating on several high-end projects that they could not afford individually.
Multi Role Tanker Transport Capability (MRTT-C)
The MRTT is a multi-function aircraft that can serve to transport cargo, troops and as an aerial refuel tanker. Air-to-air refuelling tankers are especially critical for the projection of air power. As they are a pooled asset, interoperability is essential. The MRTT-C project enables the six participating Allies – Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway – to collectively acquire Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft and establish a multinationally owned and operated fleet of MRTTs. The first aircraft was delivered in June 2020 and the last delivery is scheduled in 2024. For this initiative, NATO and the European Union (EU) joined forces, as both organisations identified shortfalls in air-to-air refuelling and the participating Allies, with the exception of Norway, are also members of the EU. As such, it is an example of the close cooperation between NATO and the EU.
Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft (M3A)
When it comes to maritime defence and security, it is vital for NATO to provide continuous situational awareness and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. As a shared starting point for future implementation activities, eight NATO Allies – Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and Türkiye – created under the Maritime Multi Mission Aircraft project (M3A) a common set of requirements. France and Germany took a first step forward by starting to develop a Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS), which will serve as a maritime situational awareness tool.
Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS)
An increasingly important capability to secure NATO's ability to actively respond to threats in the maritime area is unmanned systems. To facilitate multinational cooperation in this area, 16 NATO Allies – Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Türkiye, the United Kingdom and the United States – and NATO partner Australia have joined forces via the MUS initiative to develop tailor-made solutions including, but not limited to, systems for detecting and clearing mines, and tracking submarines.
Next Generation Rotorcraft (NGRC)
Helicopters – or, more broadly, vertical lift capabilities – are an integral enabler for the operations of Allied forces. Yet, a large percentage of helicopters in service are based on models introduced as far back as the 1960s. To ensure that NATO maintains its technological edge in this area, five Allies – France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom – signed a Letter of Intent in October 2020 to develop and acquire the next generation of medium multi-role helicopters, ready for an in-service date in the 2035-2040 timeframe. The Netherlands joined the NGRC project in June 2022, bringing the number of participating Allies to six. Through NGRC, Allies will benefit from advances not only in airframe and propulsion technology (including hybrid and electric options), but also in the digital infrastructure of the capability, ensuring that helicopters and other vertical lift vehicles will be ready to serve Allied forces for the next decades.
Modular Solution for Ground Based Air Defence Capabilities (Modular GBAD)
NATO has been working for years to strengthen its air and missile defence capabilities in order to protect its populations, territory and forces against increasingly sophisticated air threats. The Modular GBAD effort includes 15 Allies – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. It aims to jointly develop and acquire a flexible and scalable GBAD system to counter air threats at very short, short and medium range. The system will be designed around a common Command and Control backbone. Due to its modular nature participants will be able to design tailored GBAD force packages for individual operations.
Rapidly Deployable Mobile Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM)
Effective protection of Allied forces and forward-deployed bases against rockets, artillery and mortar threats is a key requirement to ensure NATO's readiness. The C-RAM initiative launched in October 2020 by four Allies – Germany, Greece, Hungary and the United Kingdom – aims to develop and procure a rapidly deployable capability to detect and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortar rounds in the air, before they hit the ground. A particular focus will be on exploring highly innovative solutions to reduce operational cost while increasing resilience of the systems against high-volume attacks.
Ammunition is an essential part of every military operation. In order to ensure NATO Allies and partner countries are well equipped, four projects have been launched at multinational level.
Air Battle Decisive Munitions (ABDM)
This project is a multinational framework for acquiring all air battle decisive munitions and aims to increase the flexibility in stockpile management by reducing legal and technical obstacles for sharing and exchanging munitions among the 14 participating Allies – Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, the United Kingdom – and partner country Finland. This is enabling the Alliance to bridge the interoperability gap in this area, which NATO first encountered during its operation in Libya, as well as support the European Allies in reducing dependence on the United States when it comes to air missions. This framework has, so far, already delivered significant cost and time savings to its participants through several rounds of multinational acquisition.
Land Battle Decisive Munitions (LBDM)
Modelled after its parent project above, the LBDM project creates a multinational framework for acquiring munitions for land domain. It currently gathers 20 Allies and three partner countries – Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, as well as Austria, Finland and Sweden – making it the largest of the High Visibility Projects. It increases the Alliance's ability to share munitions and work more smoothly in the field. Over time, this initiative will help troops increase their interoperability and effectiveness, harmonise munitions inventories and enable participants to operate seamlessly and effectively together.
Maritime Battle Decisive Munitions (MBDM)
NATO Allies Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and partner country Finland agreed to combine munitions purchases in the maritime domain, including surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, torpedoes and gun shells. The potential establishment of common warehousing solutions could lower costs even further. This effort presents an important first step towards creating European stockpiles of high-quality maritime munitions that meet the Alliance's evolving needs.
Multinational Ammunition Warehousing Initiative (MAWI)
Ammunition storage is a vital element of NATO's stockpile planning and a key enabler for NATO operations. In the aftermath of the 2021 NATO Summit in Brussels, Allied Defence Ministers from a number of countries started this initiative to define a single operational principle under which the participants can create and operate a wide range of warehousing solutions for Allies and partners. The scalable, expandable and flexible approach gives participating countries the option to adapt the storage solution to their needs while benefitting from significant cost reductions. The MAWI includes 12 Allies – Belgium, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain – as well as the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA).
Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence
Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) agents represent complex threats and distinct challenges to NATO and Allied security. Three multinational projects have been launched to help Allies coordinate training, share information and acquire equipment that will increase the level of preparedness amongst Allied CBRN defence forces.
Network of CBRN Defence Facilities (CBRN-DF)
In October 2021, nine NATO Allies agreed to establish a framework to connect various CBRN defence facilities within a single architecture. This will help make the capabilities of these centres – which range from live agent training sites to analytical laboratories – more widely available across the Alliance. Participants include Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
CBRN Protection Equipment (CBRN-PE)
The CBRN Protection Equipment HVP provides 10 participating NATO Allies – Albania, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States – with a framework to jointly procure individual protective gear and collective protection systems for their military units and personnel. This project was agreed in the margins of the NATO Defence Ministers' meeting in October 2021.
CBRN Detection and Identification (CBRN-D&I)
Similar to the above project for the procurement of protection equipment, the CBRN Detection and Identification HVP provides participating Allies with a framework to jointly develop and procure more advanced solutions for detecting and identifying CBRN agents. This project was agreed in the margins of the October 2021 meeting of NATO Defence Ministers by nine Allies: Albania, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Allies are constantly exploring new multinational initiatives to develop, in the most cost-efficient way, the key capabilities the Alliance needs to face today’s security challenges. In the same vein as the Smart Defence initiative launched by then NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2012, multinational capability cooperation is also helping the Alliance develop, acquire and maintain capabilities in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
NATO’s High Visibility Projects (HVPs) focus on delivering the most critical capabilities in an accelerated manner by creating political commitments in the form of agreements signed by defence ministers. An initial document, also called a Letter of Intent (LOI) – outlining the general cooperation idea – is signed by the defence ministers involved in the project. It is followed by the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a legally binding document specifying the details of cooperation. The MOUs provide the necessary legal framework for the execution of the implementation phase towards the delivery of the specific capability. The high-level political involvement dramatically increases the prospects of expedient and tangible progress.
In the implementation phase of most projects, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) is the intermediary between the countries and industry. This can happen at different levels: NSPA can invite industry to present solutions for Allies and partners to acquire, be involved in the procurement process, or even negotiate on behalf of countries with industry.
The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) – the senior NATO committee that brings together the top national officials responsible for defence procurement in NATO member and partner countries – is also involved in multinational capability cooperation. It is tasked with identifying collaborative opportunities for research, development and production of military equipment and weapons systems, and is responsible for a number of cooperative armaments projects that aim to equip NATO forces with cutting-edge capabilities.