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Research Questions

  1. How can NATO organize its amphibious forces for a conventional conflict against a near-peer competitor?
  2. Which national or NATO commands, if any, have the requisite capabilities to oversee large-scale, multinational maritime operations that include amphibious assault?
  3. Who could serve as the Commander, Amphibious Task Force (CATF) and Commander, Landing Force (CLF) of a potential NATO amphibious task force (ATF)?
  4. What are the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and interoperability enhancements needed to fully realize ambitions for a NATO ATF?

Amphibious leaders of seven North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations — France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States — participate in the Amphibious Leaders Expeditionary Symposium (ALES), a forum for general and flag officers to discuss opportunities for improved interoperability, command and control (C2), and utilization of amphibious forces within NATO. Meeting since 2016, ALES efforts have focused on integrating existing forces to contribute to NATO's deterrence posture and collective defense at the major joint operation plus (MJO+) level.

In 2017–2018, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa asked the RAND Corporation to design and facilitate three events with the objective of identifying suitable C2 constructs and associated doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and interoperability considerations for large-scale NATO maritime and amphibious operations. Aided by a scenario centered on confrontation with a near-peer competitor, maritime and amphibious leaders explored how to leverage NATO's existing amphibious capacity by aggregating national capabilities into a coherent C2 structure.

In this report, the authors analyze the results of these three events, note their observations, and state implications and potential next steps for NATO.

Key Findings

Four key findings came as a result of the wargaming events and subsequent discussion

  • NATO has considerable amphibious capacity, but these forces have been an underrecognized asset. Existing national and bilateral brigade-size amphibious task groups (ATGs) maintain the requisite shipping, connectors, and landing forces to conduct multibrigade operations, but further evolution of candidate C2 constructs are required to realize this capability and enhance interoperability among ATGs.
  • There is an emerging consensus around a baseline C2 structure — termed the centralized amphibious task force (ATF) — for NATO amphibious operations in an MJO+ scenario. This construct, developed by ALES stakeholders, offers a mechanism to leverage NATO's amphibious capacity by aggregating national and bilateral capabilities into a coherent C2 structure.
  • The centralized ATF construct requires commanders and staff with experience in multinational operations and expertise in amphibious warfare. Several national and allied organizations exist with the potential to take on this role but would require staff augmentation and a long-term training plan aligned with NATO's exercise program.
  • Knowledge and experience in large-scale amphibious operations has atrophied across allied naval and landing force practitioners. Existing doctrine may not be sufficiently clear regarding its application to amphibious operations of a multinational force above the brigade level.


  • Delineate combined force maritime component command and ATF responsibilities and conduct allied staff planning to specify functions, responsibilities, and authorities during an MJO+ involving large-scale amphibious operations.
  • Test the centralized ATF in future exercises to validate and evolve the constructs devised in the wargaming exercises.
  • Develop a NATO concept paper for amphibious operations at the MJO+ level; such a paper could be used as the basis for experimentation, exercise development, and eventual revisions to doctrine.
  • Specify requirements for sourcing the CATF, the CLF, and their multinational staffs, and conduct allied staff planning to determine the number and qualifications of personnel needed for the centralized ATF.
  • Identify and pursue tactical interoperability needs beyond current habitual relationships, with the realization that the proficiency of national and bilateral amphibious task groups as integral force elements will remain critical and requires continual attention.
  • Enhance the understanding and employment of amphibious battlespace management doctrine across NATO's amphibious forces by conducting workshops and other planning events to train staff officers in allied maritime and amphibious doctrine, including airspace control and fires integration.
  • Develop a NATO road map for generating and employing the centralized ATF; key work strands could include planning and sequencing exercises, assessing communications and information systems interoperability, specifying the ATF's staff structure, refreshing NATO maritime and amphibious doctrine, and enhancing the role of amphibious forces in current and emerging allied operational plans.

This research was sponsored by U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the intelligence community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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