The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) has found that instances of ‘equipment cannibalization’ in the Royal Navy have increased by almost 50% in the past five years.
When vessels require parts that are unavailable, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) can permit them to be taken from other equipment in a process known as ‘cannibalization’. However, the MoD stipulates that the practice should only be authorized when no other solution is available.
In 2016-17, ship and submarine equipment cannibalization accounted for 60% of instances across the Navy, with helicopters accounting for the remaining 40%. During this time there were 795 instances of equipment cannibalization, which equates to roughly 66 per month, up from 30 a month in 2005.
The NAO found that some 40% of ships and submarines that received cannibalized parts needed them so they could be ready for operations or training. This means that the parts were used to correct flaws that would have reduced the vessels’ operating capacities.
While 71% of parts cannibalized to meet an operational need were low value, NAO research indicates that the cost of moving the parts could be significant. In 2012, the MoD analysed 146 Type 23 equipment cannibalizations and found that the cost of equipment cannibalization was equal to, or greater than, the value of the part in half of all cases.
According to the NAO, the MoD does not routinely monitor the use, causes, or impact of equipment cannibalization across the Royal Navy. In its findings, the NAO notes that the practice can “delay programmes, create additional engineering risks and add to the work of staff, affecting morale.”