At the Wales Summit in 2014, NATO Allies agreed to enhance the capabilities of the NATO Response Force (NRF) in order to respond to emerging security challenges posed by Russia as well as the risks emanating from the Middle East and North Africa. Since the Warsaw Summit, this force has finished its transition as military staff work to phase in the concept of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) into the overall NRF structure.
The NATO Response Force (NRF) was established in 2003 as a high readiness force comprising of land, air, sea and special forces units capable of rapid deployment. The NRF is designed to perform a wide variety of tasks including:
- Immediate collective defence response capability, prior to arrival of other forces;
- Crisis management & peace support operations; and
- Disaster relief and the protection of critical infrastructure.
Overall command of this force belongs to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). NATO's two Joint Force Commands (based in Brunssum, The Netherlands and Naples, Italy) have operational command of the NRF each year on rotation. Rotating forces through the NRF requires contributing Allies and partner nations to meet significant procedures and standards required for defensive and expeditionary operations. As a result, participation in the NRF is preceded by a six-month NATO exercise program in order to integrate and standardize the various national contingents. Generally, nations carry out a further pre-training period of 6 to 18 months prior to assuming the role of an NRF high-readiness unit.
Joint Force Command Naples is leading the eNRF in 2021, however, both of the JFCs are on permanent standby.
Enhancing the NRF and Developing the VJTF
In order to adapt to emerging security challenges on NATO's eastern and southern flanks, the Alliance has enhanced the NATO Response Force into a highly flexible and capable 40,000-troop strong joint force. This includes a number of land, maritime, air, and special forces packages that can move at short notice in order to rapidly respond to threats.
The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF)
As a part of restructuring the NRF, NATO has also established a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) which can deploy within days. It comprises of a multinational brigade (approximately 5,000 troops), with up to five battalions, supported by air, maritime and special forces. Some elements are ready to move within two to three days. The force is available to move at the first warnings and indicators of potential threats, before a crisis begins, to act as a potential deterrent to further escalation. The rapid arrival of this small but capable military unit would send a very clear message to any potential aggressor: "any attempt to violate the sovereignty of one NATO nation will result in a decisive military engagement with all 30 allied nations". The VJTF's rapid response times are what set it apart from other components of the NRF.
NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU)
Rapid deployment of the VJTF will be facilitated by small command and control and reception facilities called NATO Force Integration Units (NFIU). NFIUs have been established in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, and will be staffed on a rotational basis. NFIUs work in conjunction with host nations to identify logistical networks, transportation nodes and supporting infrastructure to ensure NATO high-readiness forces can deploy into an assigned region as quickly as possible. With the help of NFIUs, some units of the VJTF will be capable of moving in just two days, with most ready to move in less than seven days.
Readiness Action Plan
Changes to the NRF are just one of the adaption measures approved by Allies at the Wales Summit under the Readiness Action Plan. Other related initiatives include:
- Assuring Allies with an increased presence including exercises and maritime and air patrols, surveillance, and policing
- Upgrading intelligence gathering and sharing and updating defence plans in order to enhance NATO's ability to quickly detect and respond to ambiguous hybrid threats
- The pre-positioning of military equipment and supplies
- Improvement of NATO's ability to reinforce its eastern Allies through preparation of national infrastructure, such as airfields and ports
- More exercises focused both on crisis management and collective defence
- Enhancing NATO's Standing Naval Forces
- Raising the readiness and capabilities of the Headquarters Multinational Corps Northeast (Szczecin, Poland) and enhancing its role as a hub for regional cooperation