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

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

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

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NHS Nightingale

The New NHS Nightingale Hospital, based at the ExCel Centre in East London, is now open and ready to receive its first patients, just 9 days after the project began. Four other NHS Nightingale Hospitals are currently being constructed in Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol.

Overseas Territories

Alongside RFA Argus, the MoD has deployed 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.

A member of Royal Air Force personnel speaks into a walkie talkie

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

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. Reservists already working in the NHS or other front line roles will not be used.

Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said:

Our Reservists are a truly remarkable group of people; each with their own skills and experience from their civilian careers beyond the armed forces.

At times like these, to be able to draw on that pool of talent and expertise is invaluable. I know that our Reservists will answer the nation’s call with real enthusiasm and will play a key part in our response to COVID-19.

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.

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. We now have over 2,000 members of the armed forces 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


The Ministry of Defence has received a request from the NHS under the Military Aid to Civilian Authority (MACA) process, to support with the delivery and distribution of ventilators. We stand ready to assist our colleagues across Government.

Delivering Testing Equipment

Members of the Coldstream Guards delivering testing equipment. MOD Crown Copyright.

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 front line 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

The NHS Nightingale Hospital based at the ExCeL conference centre in East London is now open. The NHS and DHSC turned the Nightingale facility from a concept to a reality in just 9 days, with military personnel involved in both the planning and construction stages.

Defence continues to support NHS England by providing infrastructure, logistics and project management advice. Four other NHS Nightingale Hospitals are currently being constructed in England, which will provide hundreds of extra beds to local services if required. They will be built in:

  • 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.

Oxygen tanker drivers

A uniformed member of military personnel works on an oxygen tanker

Colour Sergeant Nick Barber is taking part in training to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS. MOD Crown Copyright.

On 23 March, 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. So far, 17 of them have completed the process and are now able to fill tankers, drive them safely and deposit their cargo at NHS facilities. A further 21 drivers will complete their training and be ready to support the NHS shortly.

Delivering personal protective equipment (PPE)

Armed forces personnel moving boxes off of a lorry. MOD Crown Copyright.

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

There are currently 220 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.

South Central Ambulance Service

In Southern England, 80 personnel drawn from each of the Armed Services have been mobilised to support the South Central Ambulance Service’s frontline response to COVID-19. Their roles will include the manning of emergency response cars, driving larger ambulances and providing support at emergency response centres to take calls from those in need.

Protecting communities

Overseas Territories

The Government is working closely with 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

RFA Argus has set sail for the Caribbean in preparation to support the British Overseas Territories during the upcoming hurricane season and will be able to support the response to the coronavirus pandemic if required. RFA Argus’ deployment to the Caribbean had been scheduled for the hurricane season, but she will now be able to play a part in ensuring the UK Government is ready to support the Overseas Territories.

Alongside RFA Argus, the MoD has deployed 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.


Military personnel helping to install medical equipment in a gym hall

Military personnel have been helping to install medical equipment at temporary Patient Recovery Centres in Cumbria. MOD Crown Copyright.

Military personnel have been providing assistance to authorities in Cumbria, helping to install medical equipment at 5 temporary Patient Recovery Centres. These facilities will provide a half-way house for recovering COVID patients who have been discharged from hospital, but are not yet well enough to return home. This has helped to free up 500 beds at frontline hospitals in the region.

The Falkland Islands

The Armed Forces are supporting medical facilities on the Falkland Islands, deploying a small medical team and two Intensive Treatment Units (ITUs). Additional supplies of oxygen bottles, medicine and PPE have also been delivered. There is also a military planning team dedicated to tackling a COVID-19 outbreak on the islands.

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

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

Military Aircraft were called into action on Sunday 22 March, when an RAF A400M transport aircraft responded to a request to transfer a critically-ill COVID-positive patient from hospital on the Shetland Islands to an Intensive Care Unit in Aberdeen. The male patient, in his 60s, was in a deteriorating condition and needed to be evacuated urgently.

On Monday 6 March, military aircraft were called into action when an RAF A400 Atlas responded to a request to transfer a patient with serious health concerns from the Shetland Islands to hospital in Aberdeen. This is the third medical evacuation with which military personnel have assisted from the Orkney and Shetland Isles in recent weeks.

Aviation Task Force

A Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter

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.

The new COVID Aviation Task Force has helicopters on standby across the UK to support the government’s response to coronavirus. The RAF Puma, Army Air Corps Wildcat, RAF Chinook and Royal Navy Merlin provide essential medical evacuation capabilities as well as the ability to swiftly deliver essential equipment and personnel to where they are needed across the nation.

The following Aviation Task Forces have been established:

  • 3 RAF Puma helicopters have been detached to Kinloss Barracks in Moray, Scotland to support requests for assistance from the NHS in Scotland and Northern England
  • 2 British Army Air Corps Wildcat helicopters have been detached to RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire, to support requests in Northern England
  • 3 RAF Chinook helicopters are on standby at RAF Odiham in Hampshire and a further 2 British Army Air Corps Wildcat are on standby at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset to support Southern England
  • Royal Navy Merlin helicopters are also on standby at RNAS Culdrose to support Southern England, the Channel Islands and Isles of Scilly.

RAF Pumas at Kinloss have so far supported a Scottish Ambulance Service trial of the Epishuttle medical isolation and transportation system. Our crews worked with critical care teams based in Aberdeen and Glasgow, and dozens of colleagues from NHS Scotland. The Epishuttle system will enable the safe and swift transportation of patients to emergency care facilities.

Army puma team supporting the Scottish Ambulance Service with trial of the Epishuttle Medical System.

Army Puma team supporting the Scottish Ambulance Service with trial of the Epishuttle Medical System. MOD Crown Copyright.

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

Repatriation flights

An RAF Voyager, returning from the Falklands as part of the South Atlantic Airbridge, has repatriated a number of British nationals who had been stranded in Senegal. They were picked up whilst the aircraft was refuelled in West Africa.

In addition, the military have assisted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with repatriation flights from a range of countries, including China, Japan and Peru. This has included the deployment of an operational liaison and reconnaissance team to aid with planning, the provision of 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.

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

Published 23 March 2020
Last updated 4 April 2020 + show all updates
  1. Removing an error

  2. Adding information about a medical evacuation in the Orkney Islands

  3. Updated for 2 April

  4. Added a notice about the mobilisation of reservists to support its response to Covid-19.

  5. Updated to reflect position on 30 March

  6. Addition to the Supporting NHS section

  7. Adding information on the enforcement of public order

  8. Adding information on helicopter support to Scotland

  9. Updating a small paragraph

  10. Amendments to existing updates

  11. Update to inform public of additional progress made by the COVID support force to PPE distribution.

  12. Adding further information on repatriations and support to the Falkland Islands

  13. Adding information on military planning in the home nations.

  14. Adding information on the NHS Nightingale Hospital

  15. Adding further detail on where oxygen tanker driver training is taking place

  16. Adding details on support to the Government of Gibraltar

  17. Adding more information on oxygen tanker driver training

  18. Added photography of personnel delivering PPE to a hospital.

  19. Adding a link to an external blog post.

  20. First published.