France’s military response to COVID-19

The French amphibious assault helicopter carrier Tonnerre. (US Navy)

The French Navy’s amphibious assault helicopter carrier (PHA) Tonnerre and its 200 sailors are preparing to intervene in response to the coronavirus crisis to support the civil health capacities of Corsica.

Tonnerre Mission

Their mission is to evacuate patients affected by COVID-19 to hospitals in the Provence-Alpes region. For this mission, the carrier will embark mixed civil-military reinforcements belonging to the Armed Forces Health Service doctors and nurses and civilian teams made up of emergency doctors, resuscitators, laboratory technicians, nursing assistants and the Marseille regional health office.

PHA Tonnerre will also make available its medical capacities which will have been adapted to the transport of those patients confirmed with coronavirus. The total capacity on board in the ship’s medical facility is 15 patients.

Alternative Mask Solutions

At the request of the French Secretariat of Defense and National Security (SGDSN), under the authority of the Prime Minister, the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) is mobilising to identify alternative solutions to FFP2 respirator masks and surgical masks.

Given the current urgency to provide effective personal protective equipment (PPE), manufacturers in the textile sector have been asked to send prototypes and samples of masks to the DGA nuclear, radiological, bacteriological and chemical control (MNRBC) centre for their performance to be evaluated.

The DGA’s mission is to measure the filtration efficiency of particles from samples of masks or fabrics sent by manufacturers, mostly from the textile sector. To do this, each mask is placed on a mannequin head placed in a box filled with salt particles. This head simulates human breathing. The comparison between the density of particles present in the mouth and that contained in the box makes it possible to calculate the percentage of particles stopped. Knowing the size of the viruses, this method makes it possible to assess the filtration efficiency of each mask.

DGA testing face masks. (DGA)

By 19 March, the DGA had received 700 samples. The results were communicated to manufacturers. However, the DGA is not competent to recommend the use of new masks, it can only act as a link in the chain for assessing the quality and performance of samples.

Government’s plan to fight COVID-19

There has also been a call to industry for new medical equipment and services from France’s Ministry of the Armed Forces, launched by the Defense Innovation Agency (AID), as part of the government’s plan to fight COVID-19. It relates to the search for innovative solutions, whether technological, organisational, managerial or adapting industrial processes, that could be directly mobilised in order to protect the population, support patient care, test the population, monitoring the evolution of the disease at the individual level and the evolution of the pandemic, or helping to limit constraints during the crisis period.

The projects must be of sufficient technological maturity to be employable during the current pandemic. These innovative solutions must be easily and quickly reproducible and apply across the entire national territory within the defined budget envelope.

A budget of over $11 million (€10 million) is planned for these projects, which aims to finance one or more projects of interest.

by David Oliver