Amid reduced funding for spares across all the UK armed forces, the Royal Navy has increased equipment cannibalization by 49% in the last five years, a report published by the UK National Audit Office says.
While equipment cannibalization can be necessary – and authorized by the defense ministry – it should only happen when no other solution is available. However, the report says that equipment cannibalization was not justified in an increasing number of cases.
In the last five years, between 0.3% and 1.4% of parts provided to the main classes of ships and submarines have been cannibalized parts.
Across ships and submarines, equipment cannibalization has increased 49% in the last five years, with a total of 3,230 instances involving 6,378 parts.
During 2016-17, there were 795 instances of equipment cannibalization. This equates to 66 instances a month, compared to 30 a month in 2005. Since 2004, the navy has reduced its fleet of ships and submarines by 31% from 127 to 87, meaning that a higher proportion needs to be deployed, or ready to deploy, at any one time in order to meet defense requirements.
In 2016-17, ship and submarine equipment cannibalization accounted for 60% of instances across the Navy. Navy Merlin helicopters make up the remaining 40%.
Some 40% of ships and submarines receiving cannibalized parts needed them so they could be ready for operations or training. In these cases, equipment cannibalization rectified issues that would have reduced the operational capability of ships and submarines. The remaining 60% of ships and submarines did not need the parts for operations or training. For example, in some cases the parts were required to complete planned maintenance work to a specified schedule so as to avoid potential delays and additional costs.
The NAO analysis showed 71% of parts cannibalized on the basis of operational need were low value, but the cost of moving the parts could be much greater. The majority of cannibalized parts cost less than £5,000, with less than 1% valued at over £500,000.
According to the report, the Ministry does not know how often the cost of replacing cannibalized parts exceeds the value of the part being replaced. The ministry’s analysis, covering 146 Type 23 equipment cannibalization in 2012, showed that in 50% of these cases, the cost of equipment cannibalization was equal to, or greater than, the value of the part. In 25% of cases it was four times greater. Even though equipment cannibalization has increased, the Ministry has not updated or broadened its analysis.
NAO says the need for equipment cannibalization is exacerbated by both a lack of information about when parts will be delivered, and delays in receiving parts on time. In March 2017, the DE&S Ships Operating Centre met 55% of part demands from ship and submarine crews by the required date (target 75%). The Submarine Operating Centre met 63% of demands (target 80%).
At the same time, of 17,038 ship part demands already past their required delivery date, 34% had no recorded forecast delivery date. Identifying a forecast delivery date can be more difficult where the ministry has contracted-out support arrangements.
“There is no overall accountability for managing equipment cannibalization across the Navy or routine data collection or analysis assessing why equipment cannibalization occurs or its impact,” NAO says. “This information gap makes it difficult to determine when equipment cannibalization is becoming more routine, its underlying causes, and the trade-offs between cost savings and equipment cannibalization.”
“Each instance of equipment cannibalization can delay programs, create additional engineering risks and add to the work of staff, affecting morale,” NAO said.
You can read the full report here