History of the Headquarters

Since 1952, NATO forces have been stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, when the Central Army Group (CENTAG) plans staff began working at Campbell Barracks within the U.S. Army Europe staff. The activation of the German Bundeswehr in November 1955 resulted in the augmentation of the CENTAG plans staff with representatives from the German Army.
The CENTAG plans staff then formed a separate headquarters (HQ) in April 1959, comprising military personnel from Germany, France, and the United States. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe formally activated CENTAG Headquarters on October 1, 1960. Later, in August 1961, Headquarters CENTAG moved to Hammonds Barracks in Seckenheim, Germany.

On July 1, 1966, French military forces withdrew from the NATO Integrated Military Structure and CENTAG, establishing a military mission office to liaise between the HQ and the French Ministry of Defense. After a series of studies in the late 1970s concluded that inter-allied coordination is best achieved by stationing three international headquarters on the same installation, CENTAG returned to Campbell Barracks in December 1980 to be collocated with 4th Allied Tactical Air Force (4 ATAF) and the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force-Land (AMF(L)).

On June 30, 1993, 4 ATAF and CENTAG were deactivated, and elements of 4 ATAF formed the NATO component command Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AIRCENT) in Ramstein, Germany. CENTAG, with elements from the Northern Army Group, then combined to form Allied Land Forces Central Europe (LandCENT) on July 1, 1993. The original seven nations contributing military personnel to LandCENT were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The departure from the Cold War era brought the implementation of a new NATO Integrated Military Structure, and LandCENT was formally designated Joint Headquarters Centre (JHQ CENT) in a ceremony held on March 9, 2000. The new structure, which accompanied this designation, included personnel from five additional nations: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Norway and Poland - making a total of 12 NATO Nations contributing to the Headquarters.

On July 1, 2004, the HQ once again transitioned in a ceremony marking its designation to Component Command-Land Headquarters Heidelberg (CC-Land HQ HD). The transformation was part of a major NATO restructuring and incorporated a fundamental change to its mission and operations, as the HQ turned its focus from one of six joint sub-regional command headquarters to assume the mission and roles as one of only two land centric headquarters in the NATO Command Structure, designed to provide expeditionary command and control at the operational level of conflict.

A critical element of the HQ’s mission was to promote enhanced interoperability and standardisation through provision of land advice and guidance within Allied Command Operations. The HQ also worked closely with Allied Command Transformation on aspects such as land concept development, exercises and training. Moreover, the HQ served as the principal focus for all land matters for Joint Force Command Brunssum, Netherlands. As a result, CC-Land HQ HD has conducted much important work in the fields of land-based operational planning, intelligence, logistics, command and control, training and exercises.

Over the course of the past few years, the number of NATO Nations assigning personnel to the HQ increased to 20. In addition to that, three of the PfP Nation (Austria, Finland and Sweden) have each sent one representative to the HQ in support of one of the shared NATO/PfP programmes.

 NATO’s redefined “Level of Ambition”, agreed in 2006, required the NATO Command Structure to be able to provide Command and Control for multiple operations at any given time - with only two Joint Force Commands (at Brunssum and Naples)  and  Joint Command Lisbon left as Operational Level HQ, this was a formidable task. To match the corresponding operational Command and Control requirements for multiple operations, NATO developed the modular “Deployable Joint Staff Element” (DJSE) concept. A number of small, lean DJSEs would thus be available, taking turns to provide the “in-theatre” part of an Operational Level HQ tasked to run a given operation from its peacetime location.  The Operational Level HQ would thus be enabled to conduct more than one operation at a time from their standing HQ locations “at home”, running several DJSEs in the respective operation’s area simultaneously.

Under the DJSE Concept, four DJSEs are to be provided from the NATO Command Structure, resulting in improved NATO capabilities for more expeditionary and more flexible operations, while saving constrained resources. As a result, NATO tasked CC-Land HQ HD to transform into an Allied Force Command HQ, providing two DJSEs to the Operational Level Headquarters in Brunssum, Naples and Lisbon.

CC-Land HQ Heidelberg served as the spearhead of this transformation. As the first HQ in the NATO Command Structure, it transitioned to an experimental DJSE working structure as early as in the autumn of 2008, more than a year prior to the remaining NATO Command Structure. During the experimentation phase, the HQ proved that the concept, if fully implemented and adequately resourced, could indeed provide NATO with the required flexible Command and Control capability the Alliance asked for. On 1 Mar 2010, the HQ was formally renamed “Headquarters Allied Force Command Heidelberg” (HQ FC HD) in order to reflect its new mission.

This latest change reflects the Alliance’s emphasis on a leaner and more flexible structure, ready to provide operational capabilities for operations whenever and wherever the need arises. And the need is there: Large parts of the first DJSE from Heidelberg have already deployed to Afghanistan, providing vital support to ISAF HQ in Kabul. Heidelberg continues to be at the forefront of NATO developments.