The Future of the NATO Corps

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Main Image Credit Grenadier Guards taking a break during Exercise Noble Jump 17. Courtesy of Ministry of Defence/Open Government Licence v3.0

This paper examines the future of the corps echelon in NATO, its role on the future battlefield and how it will need to be resourced.

The diminished expectation of large-scale warfighting in the wake of the Cold War, combined with the liberation from a rigid echelon system enabled by modern communications technology, has reduced the emphasis on the corps in Western militaries. The return of great power competition, however, has seen a renewed interest in corps-level command. But the corps’ tasks have evolved since 1991. The expanded range and precision of fires makes divisional headquarters and enablers increasingly vulnerable, requiring them to be lean tactical formations. This pushes a greater planning, sustainment and force protection burden on the corps, which is likely to also be the echelon at which tactical multi-domain deep effects are coordinated. 

This paper considers the capabilities that the future corps will require and the challenges in rationalising the corps echelon within NATO. It argues that overcoming interoperability challenges requires extensive exercising with subordinate formations, which necessitates a shift in NATO from ‘rapid reaction’ to being ‘long prepared’.

Jack Watling is Research Fellow for Land Warfare at RUSI. Jack has recently conducted studies of deterrence against Russia, force modernisation, partner force capacity building, the future of fires, and Iranian strategic culture.

Lieutenant General (Retd) Sean MacFarland is a non-resident Senior Fellow of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a Senior Fellow at the Association of the US Army. During the course of his 37-year military career, he served in armour and cavalry units at every echelon.


Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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Lieutenant General (Retd) Sean MacFarland

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