in Aerospace / Defence / Security

COVID Support Force providing essential coronavirus response

Posted 22 April 2020 · Add Comment

Since the Defence Secretary's announcement last month which introduced new measures to enable armed forces personnel to support public services in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the COVID Support Force has been supporting the public services to respond to the outbreak with a range of essential activities.

Above: Royal Navy sailors load specialist testing equipment to deliver to the NHS.
Courtesy MoD / Crown Copyright

Reserves mobilised
Military reservists have been mobilised by the MoD to support public services as part of the COVID Support Force. At the moment, only Reservists with specialist skills that meet specific requests for help from other government departments will be called out.

They will be used in a range of roles, such as providing medical and logistical support for the NHS; acting as liaison officers; and deploying specialist skills such as engineering and accounting.

For more information on the mobilisation of Reserve forces during COVID-19 please see the letter from the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Reserves and Cadets).

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.

Above: A British Army Logistician plans distribution of ventilators.
Courtesy MoD / Crown Copyright

The armed forces have deployed dozens of military planners across the UK. Working with Local Resilience Forums and Partnerships, alongside the Emergency Coordination Centres in Scotland and Wales, they are supporting public services, local authorities and emergency services as they respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

Tackling misinformation
The UK Government’s Rapid Response Unit operating from within the Cabinet Office is being supported by a team from the Ministry of Defence, including members of 77 Brigade. Together they are tackling a range of harmful narratives online - from purported ‘experts’ issuing dangerous misinformation to criminal fraudsters running phishing scams.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has reaffirmed the UK’s support for NATO’s role in the international response to the crisis and committed to examining all requests for assistance from Allies. One current priority is combatting the spread of harmful, false and misleading narratives through disinformation. To bolster this effort, the British Army will be deploying two experts in countering disinformation for the formation of NATO’s Covid-19 Communications Hub.

Supporting the NHS and Temporary NHS Hospitals

Above: A soldier from Queens Royal Ghurkas unloads copper piping for construction of NHS Nightingale in Birmingham.
Courtesy MoD / Crown Copyright

In recent weeks, British forces have been supporting the NHS to open new hospitals around the country, providing infrastructure, logistics and project management advice.

Since the first new Nightingale hospital in East London was constructed in just nine days by NHS staff, military personnel, civilian contractors and volunteers, facilities have opened in Manchester and Birmingham. Additional hospitals are due to open in Harrogate and Bristol shortly. So far, the military have supported builds at:

  • London Excel – 500 beds initially, with a potential maximum of 4,000 beds
  • Birmingham – 500 beds initially, with a potential maximum of 2,000 beds
  • Manchester – 500 beds initially, with a potential maximum of 1,000 beds
  • Harrogate – up to 500 beds in total
  • Bristol – up to 300 beds initially, with a potential maximum of 850 beds
  • Exeter – up to 400 beds in total
  • Military personnel also supported the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland to determine how the Scottish Exhibition Centre could be transformed into a temporary hospital

The UK Armed Forces are providing support staff in the facilities. Seventy-five Combat Medic Technicians will deploy to the Nightingale hospital in Harrogate to support NHS colleagues with basic patient care and monitoring, joined by 100 general duties personnel.

The military will also provide support at the new facility in Bristol, which is due to open next week. Sixty Combat Medical Technicians and 60 general duties personnel will deploy. Specialist military medical control teams will operate at both sites to help coordinate this effort.

British forces are working with local communities to undertake contingency planning so they can help ensure the public are kept safe and that any tragic loss of life will be treated with the utmost respect and care. As a result, we have identified some potential sites that may be used to facilitate temporary mortuaries.

In recent weeks, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) have been supporting the Cabinet office, providing procurement, engineering and logistic advice to help with the development and procurement of new ventilators.

The DE&S Fulfilment Centre, based at MoD Donnington, has also helped with the distribution of this equipment, sending out over 3,500 pieces of kit (including ventilators, oxygen concentrators and humidifiers) to NHS hospitals.

The UK Armed Forces are also assisting with the delivery of new ventilators, with 40 military personnel supporting their distribution in London alone.

Supporting the National Testing Effort
The UK Armed Forces have been supporting the government’s efforts to increase national testing capacity, including through the provision of assistance at Regional Testing Centres and the delivery of vital testing equipment.

At Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham, specialists from Boots Pharmacists have been teaching military personnel how to conduct COVID-19 testing and train others to do so. Similar programmes are now up and running in Manchester and Glasgow, meaning that more frontline health workers can get tested quickly and reliably.

Scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are also working with Public Health England to build a new Diagnostic Hub at Porton Down. The hub will contribute 5,000 tests per day towards the government’s target of 100,000, with DSTL directly responsible for 2,000.

Oxygen tanker drivers
UK Armed Forces personnel, drawn from each of the three Services, began training to drive oxygen tankers at Air Products facilities in Carrington and Port Talbot. Thirty-nine drivers and 63 driver’s mates have now completed the process and are now able to fill tankers, drive them safely and deposit their cargo at NHS facilities.

Delivering personal protective equipment (PPE)
There are currently 450 military personnel helping to distribute PPE for NHS England. They are based at distribution centres across the country. UK-wide, the military has helped to deliver over 923 million PPE products, including 173 million masks, 163 million aprons, 1.3 million gowns and 440 million pairs of gloves.

As part of our work to support the frontline and boost NHS capacity, 6 military specialists have been deployed to assist NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde with the fitting of FFP3 face masks. In doing this, they will help to make sure that our brilliant NHS staff get the protection that they deserve.

PPE manufacturing
Personnel from across all three Armed Services have also been using 3-D printers to manufacture PPE components for their NHS colleagues on the frontline.

Royal Navy Reservists at HMNB Devonport have been manufacturing headbands for facemasks in collaboration with other dockyard agencies. Army Engineers have been producing face shields, contributing a significant number to the 39,000 produced so far. And the Chinook Support Centre at RAF Odiham have been manufacturing clips to enhance the comfort of masks when worn for long periods.

Above: A woman in British Army uniform operates 3D printing machinery, with a row of printed objects beside her.
Courtesy MoD / Crown Copyright

Ambulance support
Nearly 200 servicemen and women have been mobilised to help support ambulance services across the UK. Drawn from all three services, they will provide support in a variety of roles, including driving emergency response vehicles and working in response centres. In most cases, the troops will not be providing paramedic care. However, they have all been trained in first-aid and trauma, which will mean they can support ambulance crews where required.

So far, the military are providing support to the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, the East England Ambulance Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Aviation task force

Above: Royal Air Force Chinooks will support the work of Joint Helicopter Command.
Courtesy 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.

A new COVID Aviation Task Force has also been established to support the government’s response to coronavirus when requested. This includes:

  • Three RAF Puma based in Kinloss Barracks and two British Army Air Corps Wildcat helicopter at RAF Leeming, to assist the NHS in Scotland and Northern England
  • Three  RAF Chinook helicopters at RAF Odiham and two Army Air Corps Wildcat at RNAS Yeovilton, are on standby to cover Southern England
  • Three  Royal Navy Merlins are also on standby at RNAS Culdrose to support Southern England, the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly.

So far, military aircraft have assisted with four medical evacuations from across the UK. The RAF Pumas at Kinloss have supported a Scottish Ambulance Service trial of the Epishuttle system, to enable the safe and swift transportation of patients to emergency care facilities.

These helicopters may be seen operating in all areas of the UK, either conducting essential preparations or supporting the NHS. Given the sensitive nature of some of these tasks, it would be inappropriate to give further details.

Supporting medical facilities
Across the UK, service personnel have been helping local authorities to increase the capacity of their medical facilities. This has included efforts to construct beds at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff and St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

Military personnel have also provided support in Cumbria, helping to set up five temporary Patient Recovery Centres, which will act as a halfway house for patients who have been discharged from hospital but are not well enough to return home. Through all of these efforts, the military have supported in the provision of over 1,000 extra beds.

Overseas territories
The Government is working closely with British Overseas Territories to ensure they receive the help they need to manage outbreaks of COVID-19. This has included sending military assets to support the safety and security of their people.

The Caribbean
As part of this offering, RFA Argus has set sail for the Caribbean. She had already been scheduled to provide support during the upcoming hurricane season, however she will now be able to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic if required.

The MoD has also deployed a small number of personnel to the Turks and Caicos Islands. They will form part of a UK Government security assistance team, which will support local authorities as they plan their coronavirus response.

The Falkland Islands
Children from the Falklands, who attend school in the UK and were stranded by flight cancellations, were given priority travel home on the South Atlantic Airbridge, a frequent direct air service, owned and operated by the MoD.

Alongside a military planning team, already in situ, the MoD has deployed a small medical team and two Intensive Treatment Units, to support the islands’ medical facilities. Additional supplies of oxygen, medicine and PPE have also been delivered.

Around 175 military personnel have been deployed to Gibraltar to help with planning and logistics, as well as the delivery of food and medicine to residents. We are working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to understand their requirements and are considering an additional request for support from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

Ascension Island
At the beginning of April, the RAF delivered 70 kg of PPE to Ascension Island, alongside an additional 240 kg of PPE for onward transport to St Helena. This was part of the UK Governments commitment to the Overseas Territories.

Repatriation flights

An RAF Voyager, returning from the Falklands, has repatriated a number of British nationals from Senegal. They were picked up whilst the aircraft refuelled in West Africa.

The Military have also assisted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with repatriation flights from a range of countries, allowing British citizens to return home safely. So far, the Armed Forces have deployed an operational liaison and reconnaissance team to aid with planning, supplied medically trained personnel and provided a military runway for aircraft returning to the UK.



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