News story

Military stands up COVID Support Force

The Defence Secretary announces new measures to put service personnel and Reservists on standby to support public services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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The Ministry of Defence (MOD) will put an additional 10,000 military personnel at a higher readiness and place Reserves on standby to support public services as part of a new “COVID Support Force”, the Defence Secretary has announced.

These measures are part of prudent contingency planning to respond in a timely way to any request from other governments departments or civil authorities for support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, the military have assisted with repatriation flights from China and Japan. They are also providing 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 COVID-19 outbreak. Today, the MOD can announce further preparation ready to support public services if required:

  • up to 10,000 personnel will be placed at a higher readiness, so they are able to assist with supporting public services. This is on top of the 10,000 already held at higher readiness.
  • 150 military personnel will be trained to drive oxygen tankers in order to support the NHS if required. They will begin training on Monday.
  • measures have been taken to enable the call out of Reservists, should they be required to join the response effort
  • scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are supporting Public Health England’s effort to understand the virus and tackle the spread.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including COVID-19. The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.

From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic.

There are well-rehearsed mechanisms in place for the military to provide support to civil authorities in times of need. Most recently the military has been called on to support the government’s response to flooding.

Defence is fully engaged with other government departments, the devolved administrations and local authorities to establish how best it can support over the coming weeks and months.

The Standing Joint Command will be the Command and Control Structure for the COVID Support Force, which represents the MOD’s contribution to the government response.

Major General Charlie Stickland Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff Operations and Commitments said:

Putting more personnel at a higher state of readiness and having our Reserves on standby gives us greater flexibility to support public services as and when they require our assistance.

The COVID Support Force, potentially drawing upon our highly skilled scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory or oxygen tanker drivers, will form part of a whole force effort to support the country during its time of need. Our servicemen and women are committed to maintain our operational output and delivering any support the government requires.

Published 19 March 2020