Military medical support

  • Last updated: 14 May. 2020 10:45

The primary responsibility of military medical services is preserving and maintaining health and fighting strength of the military. At the same time, through civil-military cooperation, the military medical services strengthen and facilitate civilian efforts in dealing with medical issues such as the coronavirus pandemic. With the outbreak of COVID-19, fighting the pandemic has become one of their main priorities. Their role in coordinating national efforts within the military in NATO member and partner countries and their support to civilian efforts are fundamental contributions to managing the crisis. In addition to these roles, medical support is one of the key planning domains for operations.



  • The military health support system aims to preserve and restore the health of NATO personnel and consequently to contribute to preserving the operational capacity of NATO member and partner forces at home and in deployment.
  • Civil-military cooperation is vital at all times. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the military medical services support civilian authorities, which are in the lead in responding to the crisis.  
  • The Committee of the Chiefs of Military Medical Services in NATO (COMEDS) is the senior body for military medical advice within NATO.
  • COMEDS – in close cooperation with the Medical Advisors of the NATO Command Structure – is the central point for the development and coordination of military medical matters and for providing medical advice to the Military Committee.
  • For COVID-19, it is helping to coordinate military medical aspects of the pandemic among members and partner countries in order to identify issues that require harmonisation, immediate attention, decision or action.
  • It also develops new concepts of medical support for operations, with emphasis on multinational health care, modularity of medical treatment facilities and partnerships.
  • In addition to COMEDS’ contribution, the NATO Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine in Hungary plays a significant role by providing support through medical experts, training and advice, as well as through its coordination role.
  • Recently, a new medical entity, the so-called Multinational Medical Coordination Centre/ European Medical Command in Germany, was created.
  • COVID-19: medical support in practice

    In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the military medical community is helping to deal with the consequences of the evolving crisis situation. It plays a key enabling and support role within NATO and, more specifically, helps to improve the following: coordination, standardization and interoperability in the medical field, and the exchange of information between NATO member and partner countries.

    COMEDS was established in 1994 when the need for the coordination of medical support in peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian operations became vital for NATO. In cooperation with the Medical Advisors of the NATO Command Structure, COMEDS coordinates military medical aspects of the COVID-19 crisis among nations, in order to identify issues that require harmonisation, immediate attention, decision or action. It has taken a proactive approach by addressing the following issues:

    1. National plans to prevent, detect and respond to a biological outbreak.
    2. What role in these plans the military medical services play.
    3. What issues nations find necessary to coordinate at COMEDS level.

    By understanding the capacity (civilian and military) of NATO members and partners to respond to the pandemic and see how the crisis is being addressed in each country, medical planners in operational headquarters can adapt contingency and outbreak response plans in the host country where they are based. More broadly, by enhancing coordination and information-sharing, the military medical community harmonises the tasks that military medical services and COMEDS play in support of national civilian efforts to fight the pandemic.

    COMEDS draws upon subject matter experts (provided by nations) within its structure to sustain work in COMEDS Working Groups and Panels. These Working Groups and Panels cover tasks in different areas of medical support that include: military health care; force health protection; issues of military medical structures; operations and procedures; standardization; military medical training; food and water safety and veterinary support; mental health; dental services; issues related to health information systems and technology; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) medical issues; and future medical trends and requirements. Medical support provides essential combat service support, making it one of the key planning domains for operations, alongside armaments, logistics, air traffic management and other areas of specialisation. COMEDS, in cooperation with the NATO Command Structure Medical Advisors, contributes to NATO’s defence planning process. COMEDS steers the development of new concepts for medical support for operations, focusing on multinational health care, modularity of medical treatment facilities and partnerships.

    Supporting the efforts of the medical community, the Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine in Budapest (Hungary) takes part in military medical training, the lessons learned process and interoperability development. Where the coronavirus is concerned, it is assisting in collecting and analysing data provided by member and partner countries; it analyses epidemiological reports from NATO operations and open source medical information; and it makes and shares assessments.

    Multinational training and exercises are also used to improve multinational medical support. Numerous NATO medical courses are conducted by the NATO School in Oberammergau (Germany) and by the NATO Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine in Hungary. NATO medical exercises are organised regularly and the medical community also provides real-life support to all NATO exercises.

  • Always looking ahead

    Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the NATO medical community had already started to prepare for future challenges.  A document by Allied Command Transformation, entitled “Framework for Future Alliance Operations”, lists potential future events, crises or conflicts that NATO may face over the next 15 years. Many of these are of direct concern to the military medical community. Scenarios like mass migration, the use of weapons of mass destruction and mega-city turmoil, are extremely challenging from a medical viewpoint, pushing the medical community to continuously adapt and improve, find alternative treatments, processes or capacities.

    The COMEDS Futures Advisory Board (CFAB), in collaboration with the NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO) and Allied Command Transformation for medical capability building (Smart Defence Initiatives, Framework Nation Concept Medical Cluster) support preparations for future military medical challenges.