COVID Support Force - the MOD’s contribution to the coronavirus response

Date: Monday March 30, 2020 at 7:48am

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On 18 March the Defence Secretary announced new measures to enable armed forces personnel to support public services in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Published 23 March 2020

Last updated 27 March 2020

From: Ministry of Defence

The COVID Support Force is currently supporting the public services to respond to the outbreak with the following activity.

The Royal Air Force assisted in bringing home the passengers of a cruise

ship which had encountered an outbreak of the coronavirus. MOD Crown Copyright.

Strengthening public services

Helicopter support in Scotland

A Puma helicopter from RAF Benson, seen here readying to fly to Kinloss Barracks in Moray today. MOD Crown Copyright.

From 27 March, three RAF Puma helicopters will be stationed at Kinloss Barracks in Moray, Scotland, as part of the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Pumas will work closely with a Chinook and a Wildcat helicopter based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.

A second helicopter facility will cover the Midlands and Southern England from Aviation Task Force Headquarters at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Chinook and Wildcat helicopters normally based at RAF Odiham and RNAS Yeovilton will support southern areas.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

"The creation of these helicopter hubs is the next step in our armed forces’ contribution to tackling the coronavirus outbreak whenever it appears throughout the United Kingdom. Our aircraft are ready to support emergency services and local communities wherever needed across the highlands and islands of Scotland, the armed forces have always got your back."

"In addition, our superb military planners and logisticians are engaging with the governments and health services of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to support their efforts in responding to the virus."

Maintaining public order

Maintaining public order is the responsibility of the police. The Ministry of Defence is working with a range of partners across Government, including the National Police Chiefs Council and the Home Office, to understand how we can best support the Government’s response to the outbreak. The armed forces stand ready to assist civilian authorities if required, but there are no current plans for the military to participate in the enforcement of public order.

Personnel at readiness

On 18 March the Defence Secretary announced a COVID Support Force to assist public services with the response to the coronavirus outbreak. As of 23 March, there are 250 personnel deployed to assist civil authorities with the response. They are part of 20,000 armed forces personnel currently stood at readiness to take part.

Military planners

The armed forces have contributed dozens of specialist military planners to Local Resilience Forums who are providing support to public services, local authorities and emergency services in preparing their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Our liaison officers at Joint Military Command Scotland in Stirling are in close contact with the Scottish Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre and we are also providing planning support to Scotland’s regional and local resilience partnerships.

The military operations team in Brecon Barracks is in close contact with the Welsh Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre and is providing planning support to Wales’ four regional Local Resilience Forums.

Supporting the NHS

Delivering Testing Equipment

Members of the Coldstream Guards delivering testing equipment

Military personnel have been assisting the Department of Health and Social Care by delivering the equipment that will test frontline NHS staff for coronavirus as the Government works with industry, philanthropists and universities to significantly scale up testing. Dozens of universities, research institutes and companies across Britain are lending their testing equipment to new hub laboratories that will be set up for the duration of the crisis. Personnel from all three services have delivered the equipment to several sites across the country. In addition, a small number of military personnel have been assisting at one of the testing sites to help get the facility up and running as quickly as possible

Temporary NHS hospitals

NHS England is actively preparing for a number of scenarios as the coronavirus outbreak unfolds and is working with clinicians and a small team of military planners to support local health services around the country.

Oxygen tanker drivers

Colour Sergeant Nick Barber is taking part in training to drive oxygen tankers

in support of the NHS. MOD Crown Copyright.

Armed forces personnel have begun training to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS. Around 150 members of personnel from all three services will be trained to drive supplies of oxygen to NHS facilities if required.

Training began at Air Products facilities in Port Talbot and Carrington, near Manchester, on Monday 23 March. By the end of this week, the first cohort of military personnel will have completed their training to fill the oxygen tankers, drive them safely and deposit the oxygen at NHS facilities.

Delivering personal protective equipment (PPE)

Armed forces personnel delivered boxes of PPE to St. Thomas Hospital in London on 24 March. MOD Crown Copyright

There are currently 179 regular and reservist soldiers stationed at seven NHS distribution centres across the country as part of the work to distribute PPE. The number of personnel is likely to be increased to 250 when the programme is running at full capacity.

Protecting communities

Children from the Falkland Islands

Schoolchildren from the Falkland Islands who attend school in the UK have been unable to travel home due to flight cancellations necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak. These children will be given priority travel on the South Atlantic Airbridge, a frequent direct air service owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence. The next airbridge flight is due to leave the UK later on this week.

Assistance to Gibraltar

The Ministry of Defence is providing assistance to the Government of Gibraltar. Around 175 personnel are helping with logistics and planning and the delivery of food and medicine to residents. We are working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to understand their requirements and are carefully considering a request for additional support from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

Medical evacuations

On Sunday 22 March, an RAF A400M transport aircraft responded to a request to transfer a critically-ill COVID-positive patient from hospital in the Shetland Islands to an intensive care unit in Aberdeen. The male patient, in his 60s, was in a deteriorating condition and needed urgently to be evacuated. Before returning to its home base at RAF Brize Norton, the aircraft was cleaned.

Joint Helicopter Command

Royal Air Force Chinooks will support the work of Joint Helicopter Command. MOD Crown Copyright.

As part of the military’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, forces from Joint Helicopter Command are on standby to provide aviation capability in support to civil authorities. This will enable access to isolated communities that may not be able to obtain urgent medical care during the coronavirus crisis.

The Support Helicopter Force, Army Air Corps and Commando Helicopter Force will provide helicopters and personnel from all three services to respond as required. Find out more about Joint Helicopter Command.

Repatriation flights

So far, the military have assisted with repatriation flights from China and Japan. This included providing medically-trained members of service personnel and a military runway for aircraft to land in the United Kingdom. The repatriation flights allowed British citizens to return home safely and receive the medical treatment they needed.

An operational liaison and reconnaissance team of two military personnel has been deployed to Peru to provide planning assistance to repatriate British nationals stranded there. The operation is led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Related information

For more information please visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do guidance page on

Published 23 March 2020

Last updated 27 March 2020 + show all updates











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