Centres of Excellence (COEs) are international military organisations that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries. They assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation. They offer recognised expertise and experience that is of benefit to the Alliance, and support the transformation of NATO, while avoiding the duplication of assets, resources and capabilities already present within the Alliance.
COEs work alongside the Alliance even though NATO does not directly fund them and they are not part of the NATO Command Structure. They are nationally or multi-nationally funded and are part of a supporting network, encouraging internal and external information exchange to the benefit of the Alliance. The overall responsibility for COE coordination and utilisation within NATO lies with Allied Command Transformation (ACT), in coordination with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
COEs trace their roots back to the reorganisation of NATO’s military command structure following the Prague Summit in 2002. After the summit, Allied Command Atlantic became Allied Command Transformation (ACT). ACT became responsible for transforming the Alliance into a leaner, more efficient organisation.
Specifically, ACT ensures that the Alliance is able to face future challenges by enhancing training, conducting experiments to test new concepts and promoting interoperability within the Alliance. In line with this goal, ACT has used its links with various institutions to direct the transformation of the military structure, forces, capabilities and doctrine of the Alliance.
The Joint Air Power Competence Centre in Germany and the Defence Against Terrorism Centre of Excellence in Turkey became the first institutions to receive NATO COE accreditation in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
(Source : NATO Topic page on Centres of Excellence).