NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Allied Command Transformation plays a critical role in NATO’s Defence Planning Process, using rigorous military analysis to determine the Alliance’s Minimum Capability Requirements and draft Capability Target Packages to enable Allies to meet NATO’s Level of Ambition.

Allied Command Transformation is committed to supporting Allies in developing and delivering the capabilities required by NATO so the Alliance and its warfighters are able to maintain a decisive advantage over its adversaries. As part of its efforts, the Command contributes to all aspects of the NATO Defence Planning Process by leveraging its expertise in Warfare Development to provide critical insights and develop key products at various stages of the Process.

The NATO Defence Planning Process is the means through which the Alliance identifies the capabilities that it requires to meet the Level of Ambition set by Allies. This Process provides a framework within which national and Alliance defence planning activities can be harmonised to meet agreed targets in the most effective way. It facilitates the timely identification, development, and delivery of the necessary range of National military and non-military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s full spectrum of missions without compromising the sovereignty of Allies.

NATO Defence Planning looks across the short-to-medium term time horizons. In the short term (0-6 years), the Process considers existing and soon expected forces and capabilities. In the medium term (7-19 years) it provides the mechanism to inform Allies’ defence investments and decision-making in order to develop the forces and capabilities needed tomorrow. As a consequence of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, Allies have agreed to accelerate investments in defence.

In February 2023, NATO Defence Ministers approved the Political Guidance for Defence Planning 2023, heralding one of the most significant changes in Defence Planning since the end of the Cold War. Allied Command Transformation, supported by Allied Command Operations, are deeply immersed in efforts to translate the guidance from the Allies into the Capability Requirements that will enable the Alliance to achieve its revised Level of Ambition. In parallel, Allied Command Transformation, as well as Allied Command Operations and the NATO International Staff, are reviewing the results of the previous Defence Planning cycle. The Command is also preparing to lead and support, respectively, the apportionment of requirements and the setting of Capability Targets in 2024.

Allied Command Transformation contributes to all steps of the NATO Defence Planning Process, taking the lead during Step 2 and the initial part of Step 3, and supporting the remaining three steps. The Defence Planning Process consists of five steps conducted over a period of four years:

Step 1: Establish Political Guidance

The North Atlantic Council, NATO’s political decision-making body, provides Political Guidance for defence planning. The Political Guidance defines NATO’s Level of Ambition, specifying the number and types of the operations the Alliance should be able to conduct in the future.

Allied Command Transformation and Allied Command Operations provide the Military Committee with strategic military advice to support the development of Political Guidance. The Strategic Commands also produce the Guiding Principles and Planning Assumptions that will guide the execution of military activities in the follow-on Steps in the Process, in line with the Political Guidance.

Step 2: Determine Requirements

Allied Command Transformation, with the support of Allied Command Operations and NATO’s functional planning domains, determine the Minimum Capability Requirements based on the Allies’ approved Political Guidance. These Requirements outline the minimum capabilities necessary to meet the Level of Ambition and other agreed objectives as stated in the Political Guidance. The determination of requirements takes place once every four years, although out-of-cycle activity for particular capabilities can be undertaken as circumstances dictate.

Step 3: Apportion Requirements and Set Targets

Allied Command Transformation leads the initial apportionment of capabilities to the Allies. Using the principle of fair burden-sharing and reasonable challenge, it drafts targets for current and future capabilities, with associated priorities and timelines.

Following a round of consultations with Allies on their Capability Target packages, the lead passes from Allied Command Transformation to the NATO International Staff. Allies subsequently review the Capability Target packages in a series of multilateral meetings, before being forwarded to the North Atlantic Council for adoption.

Step 4: Facilitate Implementation

The International Staff’s Defence Investment Division, supports Allies in implementing their capability targets with a focus on defence planning priorities. Allied Command Transformation plays a supporting role in this step, proposing and coordinating potential multinational initiatives for the delivery of National Targets. In doing so, Allied Command Transformation helps identify potential efficiencies and duplications while taking into account parallel efforts to develop and deliver common funded capabilities. Unlike other steps in the process, Step 4 is continuous in nature.

Step 5: Review Results

NATO’s International Staff, supported by Allied Command Transformation and Allied Command Operations, provides an overall assessment of the degree to which the Alliance’s forces and capabilities are able to execute current and foreseen operations, and achieve NATO’s Level of Ambition. The goal of this assessment is to identify the degree to which the associated Capability Targets are being met and to offer feedback and direction for the next cycle of the defence planning process. This step is carried out twice within each four-year cycle.

Allied Command Transformation contributes to this process by proposing questions to be addressed by Allies through the Defence Planning Capability Survey and by analysing responses. The Command also supports Allied Command Operations in the development of a suitability and risk assessment of NATO’s existing and planned pool of forces.  This assessment supports the Military Committee in providing advice for ministerial-level Defence Planning Capabilities Reports.