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Dec 17 2021

The NATO Response Force -  NATO's versatile arrow in the quiver to quickly respond to any security challenge

Brunssum, The Netherlands – Security in our daily lives is key to our well-being. NATO's purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.
NATO promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.
NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under the collective defence clause of NATO's founding treaty - Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.
One of the military instruments at the disposal of NATO is the NATO Response Force (NRF). In this article, you will learn more about the NRF.

A highly ready multinational force for NATO – the NRF

The NATO Response Force (NRF) is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime, Special Operations Forces (SOF), CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) and CIMIC (Civil-Military Co-operation) components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. The principal role people perceive for the NRF is activation for a situation which requires the NRF for collective defence, preservation of territorial integrity or making a demonstration of force. There are, however, multiple other reasons for the NRF to be activated and these include peace support operations, disaster relief, protecting critical infrastructure and security operations. The recent activations has been varied as follows:

• Protection of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece;
• Security enhancement for the Afghan Presidential elections in September 2004;
• Disaster relief with aircraft from the NRF delivering relief supplies donated by NATO member and partner countries to the United States to assist in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 2005;
• From October 2005 to February 2006, elements of the NRF were used in the disaster relief effort in Pakistan, following the devastating 8 October earthquake. Aircraft from the NRF were used in an air bridge that delivered almost 3,500 tons of urgently needed supplies to Pakistan, while engineers and medical personnel from the NRF were deployed to the country to assist in the relief effort;
• Ongoing at the time of writing, Operation Allied Solace, with the NRF being activated in August 2021 to support the evacuation and relocation of Afghans who worked alongside NATO, together with their families. This response included the establishment of Task Force Noble, a task force coordinating hundreds of NRF troops from 20 Allied countries. These troops supported the evacuation in locations across Europe, including with transportation aircraft, construction equipment, ambulances, medical teams, civil affairs teams and security personnel.

Therefore, the NRF is a flexible resource for NATO to employ. Some quick facts about the NRF:

• The NRF consists of a highly capable joint multinational force able to react in a very short time to the full range of security challenges from crisis management to collective defence;
• Following the Wales Summit, NATO Allies decided to enhance the NRF in 2014 by creating a "spearhead force" within it, known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF);
• This enhanced NRF is one of the measures of the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which aims to respond to the changes in the security environment and strengthen the Alliance's collective defence;
• Deployment of the VJTF has been practiced regularly since the first event in Poland in June 2015;
• Overall command of the NRF belongs to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).


JFC Brunssum's Role

JFCBS has two roles regarding the NRF. Firstly JFCBS and JFC Naples (JFCNP) are both on permanent standby to command the NRF. On order from SACEUR the on call NRF will be activated, or the parts deemed necessary for the mission being undertaken. Command will then be passed to the JFC that SACEUR wishes to employ, the decision may be based upon where the mission is occurring or other factors. The JFC will then become the Joint Task Force (JTF) Command. The JFCs are both certified as JTF Commands for the NRF and JFCBS will be recertified in this role during 2024 as part of the planned training and exercises (TREX) activities. It should be noted forces in the NRF remain under National command until a formal handover to NATO at a predesignated time in the assigned mission. The forces are handed over to SACEUR who then delegates Command to the selected JTF Commander.

The second role for JFCBS is the preparation and monitoring of a NRF cohort for its period of Standby. These periods run for 12 months. The preparation phase itself commences some 18 months before the Standby commences.

So for each NRF unit participation in the NRF is preceded by national preparation, followed by training with other participants in the multinational force and certification for their role in the NRF. For some elements this year, their final certification was during their participation in Exercise STEADFAST JUPITER 2021. The oversight of the preparation period is always under taken by J7 (J7 is the Training / Planning Division), on behalf of the Commander, and they confirm the NRF cohort is ready when all certification is completed. Therefore, J7 will then handover the responsibility for NRF 22 to J3 at the end of this year and J3 (J3 is the Operations Division) will then keep in close contact with the cohort throughout the forthcoming year. Of course, the training does not end and elements of NRF 22 will be involved in Exercises BRILLIANT JUMP 22 and COLD RESPONSE 22. For J7 there is a short period to draw breath and then their work commences with the NRF 24 cohort. In parallel, JFCNP is just about to end its role with NRF 21 but is already engaged with NRF 23. Both JFCs monitor each other's activity because whilst JFCBS may have prepared the NRF 22 cohort it might be JFCNP who commands on activation and vice versa.

The preparation period itself serves as a time when the elements of the NRF refresh their "NATO" credentials as it is, on average, around 5 years since they were last Standby. Their staff will have rotated and the preparation periods means they can learn or relearn procedures, be briefed on changes to ways of working since their last Standby period and this is also a time when NATO can experiment on its own processes and procedures. Thus as units rotate through the NRF, the associated high standards, concepts and technologies are gradually spread throughout the Alliance, thereby fulfilling one of the key purposes of the NATO Response Force – the further transformation of Allied forces.


The Forces in the eNRF

Looking at the enhanced NATO Response Force it comprises:
• The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF): This NRF element – about 20,000 strong – includes a multinational land brigade of around 5,000 troops and Air, Maritime and SOF (Special Operations Forces) components. Leading elements are ready to move within two to three days. Allies assume the lead role for the VJTF on a rotational basis;
• The Initial Follow-On Forces Group (IFFG): These are high-readiness forces that can deploy quickly following the VJTF, in response to a crisis. They are made up of the VJTF brigade of the previous year and the designated VJTF brigade of the following year which is already training and preparing;
• A maritime component: it is based on the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMGs) and the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCMGs);
• A combat air and air-support component;
• Special Operations Forces;
• A chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence task force.
The NRF is also open to partner countries to contribute to, once approved by the North Atlantic Council.


The NRF gives the Alliance the means to respond swiftly to various types of crises anywhere in the world. It is also a driving engine for NATO's military transformation. Allied countries commit Land, Air, Maritime, SOF, CBRN and CIMIC for a period of 12 months.

The VJTF 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. Any mission, anywhere with preparation as the key.
The NRF has proven that it is a versatile, capable instrument that is ready for any NATO mission or task. The NRF 22 cohort is the latest iteration of this proven capability.

For more information about the NRF, please visit jfcbs.nato.int

Story by JFC Brunssum Public Affairs Office

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