PDF Library

  • Apr. 2007 - NATO
    Briefing on NATO Military Structure
  • May 2004 - IMS
    Structure of Allied Command Operations (PDF/54kb)
Eng. / Fr.

Allied Command Operations

Allied Command Operations (ACO) is one of NATO’s two strategic military commands. Located at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), near Mons, Belgium, it is responsible for all Alliance operations wherever it may be required.

Working mechanism

The command structure is based on functionality rather than geography. There are three tiers of command: strategic, operational, and the tactical or component level.

At the strategic level, Allied Command Operations is commanded by Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). SACEUR is dual-hatted as the commander of the US European Command, which shares many of the same geographical responsibilities.

The operational level consists of two standing joint force commands (JFCs): one in Brunssum, the Netherlands, and one in Naples, Italy, both of which can conduct operations from their static locations or provide a land-based Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) headquarters. There is also a robust but more limited standing joint headquarters in Lisbon, Portugal, from which a deployable sea-based CJTF headquarters capability can be drawn.

The component or tactical level consists of six Joint Force Component Commands (JFCCs), which provide service-specific – land, maritime or air – expertise and support to the operational level. Link to organigram


The Supreme Allied Headquarters (SHAPE) was established on 2 April1951 in Rocquencourt, France, as part of an effort to establish an integrated and effective NATO military force.

In 1967, after France’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military structure, SHAPE was relocated to Casteau, Mons, Belgium.

The London Declaration of July 1990 was a decisive turning point in the history of the Alliance and led to the adoption of the new Alliance Strategic Concept in November 1991, reflecting a broader approach to security. This in turn led to NATO’s Long Term Study to examine the Integrated Military Structure and put forward proposals for change to the Alliance’s Force Structures, Command Structures and Common Infrastructure.

In essence, the Cold War command structure was reduced from 78 headquarters to 20 with two overarching Strategic Commanders (SC), one for the Atlantic, and one for Europe, with three Regional Commanders under the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT) and two under the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR).

During the 2002 Prague Summit, NATO’s military command structure was again reorganized with a focus on becoming leaner and more efficient. The former Allied Command Europe (ACE) became the Allied Command for Operations (ACO). The Supreme Allied Commander Europe and his staff at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) situated in Mons, Belgium, were henceforth responsible for all Alliance operations, including those previously undertaken by SACLANT.

The command structure beneath SHAPE was also significantly streamlined, with a reduction in the number of headquarters from 32 Command Centres down to 9.