COVID Support Force: the MOD’s contribution

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

Supporting the NHS

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

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. 

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

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. 

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. 

The Royal Air Force assisted in bringing home the passengers of a cruise ship which had encountered an outbreak of the coronavirus.


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.