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The U.K. military has stationed three Royal Air Force HC Mk 2 Puma helicopters in Scotland to support ongoing patient transport efforts there and across the U.K. as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
The three Puma helicopters will be stationed at Kinloss Barracks in Moray, the U.K. Ministry of Defense announced March 27. The Pumas will work closely with a Boeing CH-47 Chinook and an AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW159 Wildcat helicopter based at RAF Leeming, in North Yorkshire, to meet any requests for assistance from NHS boards and trusts across Scotland and Northern England.
A second helicopter facility will cover the Midlands and Southern England working out of The Aviation Task Force Headquarters at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. Chinook and Wildcat helicopters normally based at RAF Odiham and Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton respectively will support the Southern areas.
“The creation of these helicopter hubs is the next step in our Armed Forces’ contribution to tackling the coronavirus outbreak whenever it appears throughout the United Kingdom,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement. “Our aircraft are ready to support emergency services and local communities wherever needed across the highlands and islands of Scotland – the armed forces have always got your back. In addition, our superb military planners and logisticians are engaging with the governments and health services of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to support their efforts in responding to the virus.”
The helicopter facilities have been set up to support medical transports across Scotland and the rest of the UK. The new task force will also be available for general support such as moving equipment and personnel across the wider UK.
All the helicopter forces will be supported by the Joint Helicopter Support Squadron, normally based at RAF Benson, as well as the Tactical Supply Wing, based at the Ministry of Defense site at Stafford, England. Personnel from all 3 services across the Joint Helicopter Command will be coming together to support the task force.
“The addition of these two aviation task forces, one in Scotland the other in England, bring another vital capability to the U.K.’s combined effort against COVID-19,” said Standing Joint Commander Lt. Gen. Tyrone Urch. “My team and I will ensure that they are on task 24/7 across the U.K. for as long as is necessary to support the Government and our NHS as they respond to this national crisis.”
This new Kinloss-based support follows last weekend’s use of an RAF Airbus A400M transport aircraft, working with the Scottish Ambulance Service, to evacuate a critically ill patient from the Shetland Islands to Aberdeen to receive intensive care treatment.
The aviation support is in addition to a team of army medical, logistics, supply and humanitarian relief planners who joined the Scottish government’s Emergency Coordination Center team in Edinburgh earlier this week.
“The U.K.’s Armed Forces are doing a fantastic job in supporting the country’s efforts to tackle coronavirus,” Scottish Secretary Alister Jack. “The U.K. Government is working closely with the Scottish Government on our response, and the MoD will be able to offer them much-needed specialist skills. We are very grateful for the commitment and dedication shown by all members of our armed forces at this challenging time.”
The team of military planners and liaison officers are now co-locating at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh. This team will be supported by the Battalion Headquarters of Penicuik-based 2 SCOTS, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, and the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Additionally, a wider team of military liaison personnel will be made available to every health board in Scotland.
“Scotland’s public services and our NHS are working flat out to support the effort to tackle Covid-19,” said Deputy First Minister of Scotland John Swinney. “Our Scottish Government resilience operation has always had a strong working relationship with the Armed Forces, offering assistance during severe weather, and we welcome their support during these unprecedented and difficult times.”