April 13 (UPI) -- The Defense Department began executing a $133 million project to make N95 masks, its first coronavirus-related order under the Defense Production Act.
The order, announced over the weekend, is meant to produce over 39 million masks, regarded as a critical resource to be used by hospital personnel dealing with the virus, in 90 days.
Hundreds of military doctors, thousands of National Guard members and two Navy hospital ships have been mobilized to help civilian doctors deal with the pandemic.
"On the evening of April 10, the Department of Defense received approval from the White House Task Force to execute the first DPA Title 3 project responding to COVID-19," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement.
The action by the Defense Department is the latest in its involvement with the health crisis. It awarded $5.2 billion in contracts for various aspects of coronavirus response last week, including a $5 billion omnibus contract to nine contractors for supplies, as well construction of alternate care centers in Bronx, N.Y., and East Orange, N.J.
Contractors for the mask-making project will be announced later this week. The new masks come after the Defense Department pledged 10 million masks from its stockpiles to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Defense Production Act, passed in 1950, requires U.S. businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defense. In a separate action, the Act was used last week to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acquire N95 masks from the 3M company.