NATO Commanders and Forces

NATO Commanders

The first meeting of the Military Committee was held on 6 October 1949, it was composed of the chiefs of defence from 11 of the 12 founder countries (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States), and civilian representation from Iceland, which did not (and still does not) have military forces.

The Military Committee comprises the Chiefs of Staff of all member countries except Iceland and France. There are three Major NATO Commanders (MNC):

  • SACEUR The Supreme Allied Commander Europe who is an American general who is also Commander-in-Chief US Forces Europe (CINCUSEUR).
  • SACLANT The Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic who is an American admiral.
  • CINCCHAN The Commander-in-Chief Channel who is a British admiral.

NATO Combat Forces


Allied Command Europe (ACE) is responsible for the defence of all European NATO territory, excluding France, Portugal, Iceland and the UK.
SACEUR has 66 divisions assigned in time of war, along with over 3,000 tactical aircraft.
SACEUR has 3 subordinate commanders:
AFCENT- Allied Forces Central Europe.
AFNORTH- Allied Forces Northern Europe.
AFSOUTH- Allied Forces Southern Europe.



Allied Commander Atlantic (ACLANT) is responsible for the defence of the Atlantic Ocean from the Tropic of Cancer to the North Pole. His task is to gain either general or local control of the ocean to allow American reinforcements to cross the Atlantic.

ACLANT has 6 subordinate commanders:


  • Western Atlantic.
  • Eastern Atlantic.
  • Iberian Atlantic.
  • Striking Fleet Atlantic.
  • Submarine Command.
  • Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT).


NATO decided to reorganise its air forces in the mid-1970s, modernise its air defence system, and in 1978, create a centrally owned NATO AWACS airborne early warning force of radar aircraft.
AWACS: NATO's eyes in the sky


Effective air defence is an Alliance priority. The NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) constitute a highly mobile surveillance system designed to provide a solid air defence system over the entire Euro-Atlantic region.

Since 1982, when it began flying operations, the AWACS fleet has proved to be a critical asset and played an important role in supporting NATO's main objective, that of keeping the peace. The primary mission of the NATO AWACS fleet is to offer a multinational and immediately available airborne surveillance, warning and control capability in support for the Alliance. The fleet enables data to be transmitted directly from the aircraft to command and control centres on the ground, sea or in the air. The system also provides an all-altitude warning and detection capability which improves the Alliance's maritime surface picture, essential for surveillance operations.
With its flexibility, quick reaction and long-range capability, it has demonstrated its ability to respond effectively to emerging political and military crises.

Did You Know?

  • One E-3A flying at 9,150 metres (30,000 feet) has radar coverage of 312,000 square kilometres.
  • Three E-3As in overlapping orbits can provide complete radar coverage of all of Central Europe.