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Aviation Report

The Importance of The Armed Forces During the Covid-19 Pandemic

5 January 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic impact in 2020 put the world’s healthcare systems, governments, and societies under enormous pressure. The pandemic crisis caught several countries unprepared on the world stage, highlighting several issues in the existing emergency response systems. With the first wave of the pandemic, frontline European countries hit by the emergency had to react to different critical points and issues, such as lack of health care personnel, intensive care equipment and other emergency supplies. At the beginning of the pandemic, the images of military flights in assistance to States facing the emergency first, especially Italy, became famous.

The armed forces mostly provided logistic assistance: in the first period of the emergency, the transportation of basic personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facemasks was carried out by or under the armed forces’ supervision through land, sea and air, ensuring the quickest and safest results. 

To face the emergency and compensate the shortages in terms of personnel, logistics, and equipment, the armed forces were often called into action. The scenarios in which they are called to operate differ from the usual peacekeeping, expeditionary and combat operations. Tragic events that require the intervention of armed forces to better assist the civilian population are not rare. The armed forces’ efforts in facing events such as earthquakes, floods, and other crises have been significant, but they are nothing compared to the deployment needed during a world-scale pandemic. In many countries, armed forces have been involved in constructing field hospitals to reduce the pressure on national healthcare systems and create assistance points for the people in need (EPRS, 2020). Often, the armed forces were the most trained and equipped to operate biocontainment and mitigate biohazards.

During this pandemic, the deployment of national armed forces has been widespread in different ways and on different levels. At the same time, also supranational organisations such as the EU and NATO have deployed their means.

Considering the worldwide emergency, it was important for NATO not to decrease its operational capabilities and readiness. NATO’s efforts are focused on using its military equipment, resources, and strategic airlift capability in the most effective way. NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, pointed out the importance of assisting the Alliance during this emergency and at the same time taking all the necessary measures to continue protecting NATO armed forces and the Alliance itself (NATO, 2020). 

The debate within NATO concerning the current situation and future planning is continuous. Ordinary security challenges have not diminished during the Covid-19 crisis, and NATO is called into action to ensure that the pandemic will not result in a security and military crisis as well.

NATO has facilitated different interventions aimed at tackling the pandemic, including the construction of more than 100 field hospitals, the addition of about 25 thousand treatment beds, the deployment of about 5000 military medical professionals in support of the civilian population. In addition, the NATO airlift fleet was pivotal in numerous aero-medical evacuations with intensive care teams, several missions (about 350) to support and transport medical personnel, treatment capabilities and supplies, and in the repatriation of more than 3500 allied citizens globally (NATO, 2020). It is estimated that until November 2020, NATO transported more than 1,000 tonnes of emergency-related equipment.

In the Common Security and Defence Policy framework, the European Union focused on military assistance to provide help during the pandemic crisis. The EU Military Staff led a task force to better understand the crisis and exchange information and best practices among Member States. The EU’s response is in full coordination with NATO. European countries mobilised and deployed a consistent amount of personnel and means. According to the EPRS (European Parliament Research Service), Spain is leading with almost 60 thousand soldiers deployed, followed by Germany, France, Romania, Poland, and Italy (EPRS, 2020).

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell stated that this crisis “offers an opportunity to reflect on how we can improve our resilience and use defence initiatives to develop defence capabilities required to address similar situations in the future. Ongoing work in security and defence remains a clear priority, now perhaps more than ever. Because from now on, health becomes a security issue” (European Council, 2020).

The vaccination campaigns started between the end of 2020, and the beginning of 2021 again involves the armed forces to ensure the system’s proper functioning. In many cases, the Pfizer vaccine was transported or escorted by the military, from the production plant to distribution centres. Military medical personnel are working all over the world to speed up the vaccination process. 

Globally, the armed forces showed high reliability and efficiency in these unprecedented circumstances. The lessons learned from decades of experiences in humanitarian missions overseas, peacekeeping operations and expeditions have been extremely precious for safeguarding the entire civilian population.

Observing, analysing and learning from the pandemic is important from a common defence and interoperability perspective. It can help increase the means at the disposal of the armed forces to support the civilian population. Even if the armed forces are not designed for these specific tasks, further developing the readiness to these kinds of interventions will be vital and increase everyone’s security.

Written by Simone RINALDI, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre


European Council, (2020), Josep Borrell’s Statement, Available at

NATO, (2020), Covid-19 Factsheet,

EUROMIL, (2020),, 2020, The role of armed forces in the fight against coronavirus,

EPRS, (2020), The role of armed forces in the fight against coronavirus, Available at

Marrone A., (2020), The COVID-19 Pandemic and European Security: Between Damages and Crises; Istituto Affari Internazionali.