Valuable Data from the Annual Report by NATO’s Secretary General

The 2015 annual report by NATO's Secretary GeneralThe NATO Response Force (NRF) is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed, when authorised by the North Atlantic Council – NATO’s top political decision-making body….

In 2015, the size of the NRF roughly tripled from 13,000 to approximately 40,000.

The VJTF is NATO’s “Spearhead Force”. The Spearhead and Initial Follow-on Forces are based in their home countries, but are able to deploy to wherever they are needed for exercises or crisis response. Composed of approximately 20,000 troops, elements of the Spearhead Force can be deployed from their base locations at a few days’ notice. Leadership and composition of these forces rotate on an annual basis. In 2016, when the Spearhead Force is fully operational, the brigade-sized multinational land component (about 5,000 ground troops) will be led by Spain. Other components include air, maritime, logistics and Special Operations forces. France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Turkey and the United Kingdom have offered to serve as lead nations in the following years.

In June 2015, the Spearhead Force participated in its first deployment exercise: Noble Jump in Poland. It was tested again during Exercise Trident Juncture and is now certified for 2016. The exercise also certified the NRF Headquarters for 2016, Joint Force Command Brunssum.

In addition to the VJTF, the NRF includes an Initial Follow-on Forces Group (IFFG), which includes two land brigades as well as air, maritime, logistics and Special Operations forces at high readiness. To further support the NRF, an additional cadre of high-readiness forces has been identified by Allies and partners that may be made available on a voluntary basis. While this group can provide important contributions to the NRF, its numbers are not included in the 40,000.

The NRF is trained for the full spectrum of NATO missions. It is certified and trains through military exercises throughout the year, with 25 exercises in 2015. To ensure that the VJTF is prepared, two dedicated exercises are conducted under the authority of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR): one readiness exercise and one short-notice deployment exercise….

As part of its overall military build-up, the pace of Russia’s military manoeuvres and drills have reached levels unseen since the height of the Cold War. Over the past three years, Russia has conducted at least 18 large-scale snap exercises, some of which have involved more than 100,000 troops. These exercises include simulated nuclear attacks on NATO Allies (eg, ZAPAD) and on partners (eg, March 2013 simulated attacks on Sweden), and have been used to mask massive movements of military forces (February 2014 prior to the illegal annexation of Crimea) and to menace Russia’s neighbours….

Air Command and Control System The NATO Air Command and Control System (ACCS) programme will provide the Alliance with a single, integrated system to manage NATO air operations in and out of the Euro-Atlantic area. This system will replace a wide variety of NATO and national air systems currently fielded across the Alliance. Once fully deployed, NATO ACCS will cover 10 million square kilometres of airspace and interconnect over 20 military aircraft control centres. NATO ACCS will be one of the major pillars of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System capability aimed at safeguarding and protecting Alliance territory, populations and forces against any air and missile threat or attack. For the first time, all NATO air operations (including air policing) will be provided with a unified system employing a single, consistent and secure database. The system will integrate air mission control, air traffic control, airspacesurveillance, airspace management, command and control resource management, and force management functions, among other capacities….

Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) evolved out of NATO’s immediate response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States and has adapted to meet evolving security risks in the Mediterranean. In the context of OAE, Allied ships patrol the Mediterranean, monitoring shipping to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist activity….

Since the start of OAE in 2003, NATO forces have hailed over 124,000 merchant vessels and boarded some 170 suspect ships. By conducting these maritime operations against terrorist activity, NATO’s presence in these waters has benefited all legitimate shipping travelling through the Straits of Gibraltar. Keeping the Mediterranean’s busy trade routes open and safe is critical to NATO’s security. In terms of energy alone, some 65% of the oil and natural gas consumed in Western Europe passes through the Mediterranean each year, with major pipelines connecting Libya to Italy and Morocco to Spain.

For this reason, NATO ships are systematically carrying out preparatory route surveys of potential choke points as well as of important passages and harbours throughout the Mediterranean. During 2015, 17 Allied nations contributed assets to OAE (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States). These contributions included 55 submarines, 308 maritime patrol aircraft and 294 surface vessels in either direct or associated support. In addition to the Allied contributions, one non-NATO nation, New Zealand, contributed to OAE with one ship in associated support during 2015.

In July 2015, NATO Allies agreed to transition OAE to a non-Article 5 Maritime Security Operation, capable of performing the seven maritime security operations tasks: support maritime situation awareness; uphold freedom of navigation; conduct maritime interdiction operations; fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; protect critical infrastructure; support maritime counter-terrorism; and contribute to maritime security capacity-building. Work is ongoing to implement this decision….

Due to increased Russian air activities, the number of NATO Air Policing missions increased significantly in 2014 and 2015. Over the two-year period from 2013 to 2015, Russian air activity close to NATO’s European airspace increased by around 70%. Allied aircraft scrambled over 400 times to intercept Russian aircraft over Europe in 2015 – a further increase from 2014. While few flights violated NATO airspace, other circumstances, such as loss of contact with air traffic control, prompted NATO’s increased air policing presence. In 2014 and 2015, additional fighter aircraft have been deployed to the Baltic States in the framework of the assurance measures in the Readiness Action Plan….

The EU is a unique and essential partner for NATO; the organisations share common values, strategic interests, and 22 common members. NATO and the EU are working side-by-side in crisis management, capability development and political consultations. As 9 out of 10 EU citizens live in a NATO country, cooperation and coordination between the two organisations is key, especially in light of the rapidly changing strategic environment in their common neighbourhood. Over the past year, contacts have been intensified substantially.

Excerpts from the Secretary General’s Annual Report for 2015.

Image: The 2015 annual report by NATO's Secretary General (graphic: NATO)