What is a NATO COE?

A COE is a nationally or multi-nationally sponsored entity, which offers recognised expertise and experience for the benefit of the Alliance, especially in support of transformation. It provides opportunities to enhance education and training, to improve interoperability and capabilities, to assist in doctrine development and/or to test and validate concepts through experimentation.

How many NATO COE exist?

More than 20 COEs are established; and more are under development.
More detailed information can be found under -> Our Partners -> COE Family.

How is the COE CSW linked to NATO?

The COE CSW is part of a wider framework supporting the NATO Command Arrangements. Through NATO accreditation the COE CSW became an International Military Organisation with the legal status of a NATO Headquarters in accordance with the Paris Protocol.

Therefore the COE CSW is neither an integral part of the NATO Command Structure (NCS) nor the NATO Force Structure (NFS); however, the COE CSW is closely linked to those immediate parts of the Alliance, thus granting both direct cooperation with NATO bodies but also allowing great deal of freedom for close cooperation with other institutions and organisations.

Besides the Centres of Excellence also organisations like Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) are part of the wider framework supporting NATO Command Arrangements.

What does “Confined and Shallow Waters” (CSW) mean?

CSW are theatres of operation where the courses of action of both friendly and opposing forces are limited, at least due to some of the following factors:

  • Confined waters: narrow straits, jagged and rugged coastlines, archipelago-like environments with small islands, tidal areas and extensive flats and shoals, often changing in size and shape under the influence of currents and/or weather conditions. Specific geo- and hydrographical conditions affect sensor and weapon performance and thus operations.
  • Shallow waters: Water depth of less than 200 m

Although the term “Confined and/or Shallow Waters” would be more precise, the title “Confined and Shallow Waters” has been chosen for reasons of simplicity.

CSW have to be understood as a part of the littoral. This coastal zone of an ocean or sea or a lake shore zone extends from several hundred meters up to hundreds of miles on both sides of the borderline between water and land. It refers to operations in and around the littoral zone, within a certain distance of shore. Besides the geographical factors, other aspects, namely political and economic interests, are taken into regard when defining the extension of a specific littoral zone. In military operations, the littoral zone is a coastal region consisting of the seaward area from the open ocean to the shore. This area must be controlled to support operations ashore and the landward area inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from the sea.

The area of CSW does not extend as far inshore beyond the beaches as the littoral zone. However, fjord-like environments, deltas or streams – even vast inland waters – can be regarded as typical for CSW although they might extend deep beyond the coastline.

What was the reason for Germany to establish a maritime COE?

The impulse for establishing a COE is generally triggered by NATO or an Alliance Nation. If the idea comes from NATO, it is generally a result of an identified shortfall in a NATO capability. Within an Alliance Nation, the idea is usually initiated from the tactical, operational or strategic, sometimes even from the political level.

Given the operational background of the German Navy, traditionally operating in the Baltic and the North Sea as well as in the Norwegian Sea which includes the fjord environment, the corresponding expertise has been preserved and further developed in the past decades.

With the employment of small, flexible units, the German Navy has been utilising this experience in recent and current missions abroad. German Corvettes, mine counter measure vessels, coastal submarines, and - in a supporting role - special forces along with frigates and other assets, are sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, participating in Operation Sea Guardian, EU NAVFOR - Operation Atalanta, EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The German Navy has concentrated all assets ideally suited for operations in CSW in the German Flotilla 1, which is collocated with the COE CSW and provides the national expertise and support.

NATO, namely the HQ Allied Command Transformation, recognised this background and the sound expertise of the ‘Framework Nation and endorsed the concept of the COE CSW in 2006.

When was the COE CSW founded?

The idea for establishing Centres of Excellence (COEs) was born in May 2003 and further refined into a concept by the NATO Military Committee in December 2003. Once the idea and the concept were firmly established, the Alliance established COE Accreditation Criteria and on the 01 June 2005 the first NATO COE was accredited.

The COE CSW was founded initially as a national German organisation in 2006. On 03 October 2008, Germany as the Framework Nation along with the Sponsoring Nations Greece, The Netherlands, and Turkey, signed the Operational and Functional Memorandum of Understanding in Norfolk, Virginia (USA), thus establishing the COE CSW as a multinational organisation.

The COE CSW was accredited in March 2009 and awarded the status of an International Military Organisation by the North Atlantic Council. The COE CSW inauguration ceremony took place on 26 May 2009 in Kiel.

Poland joined the COE CSW in the summer 2009. As of 2011, Finland joined as a Contributing Partner. In 2013, Italy joined the COE CSW as a further Sponsoring Nation.

In 2017 the joining process for Lithuania (aiming at the status of a Sponsoring Nation) and Denmark (aiming at the status of a Contributing Partner) have been initiated. Furthermore, Estonia declared the wish to join as Contributing Partner, triggering off the joining process.

What are the Mission and the Responsibilities of the COE CSW?

The COE CSW mission is to provide joint and combined subject matter expertise in the field of operation in confined and shallow waters
in order to
support NATO’s military transformation, the Participants and other Customers thus enhancing the Alliance’s interoperability in the field of operation in CSW.

The COE CSW concentrates and further develops the expertise and capabilities of NATO with regards to conduct maritime operations in the specific areas of confined and shallow waters.

The Specific responsibilities of the COE CSW:

  1. As the focal point of activities: Facilitate the development, validation and implementation of NATO concepts and doctrines;
  2. Contribute and provide input to the NATO Lessons Learned process as well as to allied experiments and modelling and simulation efforts;
  3. Complement and contribute to NATO efforts in the field of exercises, education and training:
  4. Assess the requirements, the present status and the future development with regards to operations in confined and shallow waters in a joint and combined operational environment.

Who is the Director of the COE CSW?

The Director is Rear Admiral Henning Faltin, who is double hatted as Director COE CSW and Commander of the Flotilla 1 that provides the German capabilities for operations in confined and shallow waters (corvettes, coastal submarines, mine-counter measure assets, naval infantry and special forces.

Is COE CSW open to every nation/organisation?

Participation in a NATO COE as a Sponsoring Nation (with a vote in the Steering Committee and the commitment to permanently fill at least one post) is only possible for a NATO Nation.

The second option is participating as a Contributing Partner (without a vote and obligation to permanently man a post); thus also a non-NATO Nation may participate within the relevant security arrangements provided the consent of the Framework and all Sponsoring Nations.

What is a Steering Committee? What is its task?

  • The COE CSW Steering Committee (SC) is responsible for the direction, overall guidance and development of the COE CSW as well as for the direction of the Programme of Work including resource allocation.
  • The COE CSW SC is established by the Participants for guidance, oversight and decisions on all matters concerning the administration, policy and operation of the COE CSW. The SC is to provide principal guidance to the Director for the effective execution of his mission and it is responsible for optimising the effectiveness of the COE CSW and for prioritising the demands placed on the COE CSW.
  • The COE CSW SC is chaired by the Framework Nation. Each Sponsoring Nation has one vote in the SC.
  • The Director attends the meetings of the SC without a vote.
  • Decisions of the SC must be reached unanimously. Should the SC fail to reach unanimity, the representatives of the Participants will report to their superiors to seek advice on further action to be taken.
  • HQ SACT is, and other NATO-Entities or other partners may, be invited by the COE CSW SC to attend its meetings.
  • As a general rule, the COE CSW SC meets at least once a year.
  • The main tasks of the COE CSW SC are to:

    1. Direct the long-term development of the COE CSW and resolve resource and organisational issues;
    2. Approve the Programme of Work,
    3. Approve the annual financial statement;
    4. Approve the yearly budget and consider as a planning guidance the medium-term financial plan;
    5. Monitor and guide the financial management of the multinational budget;
    6. Provide a forum for the discussion of issues affecting the COE CSW;
    7. Establish a single point of contact for formal external relations of the SC;
    8. Monitor the performance of mission and tasks of the COE CSW, including its funding, administration and personnel establishment;
    9. Provide guidance for the coordination of plans and policy for the development and improvement of personnel, equipment, procedures, processes and organisations of the COE CSW;
    10. Propose changes to the MOU and all Annexes to the Participants;
    11. Approve any Technical Arrangement and any changes thereto;
    12. Issue directives and guidance to the COE CSW;
    13. Approve major repair of and any other major changes in the permanent construction of infrastructure financed by COE CSW.


How many Nations are represented in COE CSW?

Germany is the Framework and Host Nation. Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Turkey are the five Sponsoring Nations.

Additionally, the USA is involved through the Personnel Exchange Programme with the German Navy.

Denmark and Lithuania currently contribute on a National Voluntary Contribution basis in preparation of the formal joining the COE CSW.

What is the structure of COE CSW?

The organisational structure of the COE CSW is laid down in the Operational Memorandum of Understanding between the participating nations.

The COE CSW is structured into three branches:

  • Concepts and Doctrine
  • Training and Analysis
  • Staff Organisation and External Relations

More information can be found under -> Our COE -> Structure.


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