The Ministry of Defence has approved more than 3,000 instances of taking parts from Royal Navy ships and other equipment to give them to other ships in more urgent need, the National Audit Office has revealed.
A review into equipment cannibalisation published today found that the practice, which is meant to be used only when no other alternative is available, had increased by 49% in the last five years, with a total of 3,230 instances involving 6,378 parts.
According to auditors, some 40% of ships and submarines receiving cannibalised parts needed them so they could be ready for operations or training. In these cases, equipment cannibalisation 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, but were needed in order to, for example, complete planned maintenance work to schedule and cost.
The audit found that 71% of parts cannibalised on the basis of operational need were low value, with the majority costing less than £5,000, and under 1% valued at over £500,000.
However, it found that the MoD does not routinely monitor the use, causes and impact of equipment cannibalisation across the Navy, instead focusing by ship types, and it does also not know how often the cost of replacing cannibalised parts exceeds the value of the part being replaced. Its own analysis, covering 146 Type 23 equipment cannibalisations in 2012, showed that in 50% of these cases, the cost of equipment cannibalisation was equal to, or greater than, the value of the part. In a quarter of cases it was four times greater. Even though equipment cannibalisation has increased, the ministry has not updated or broadened its analysis.
The report stated that the use of cannibalised parts when there were new replacements unavailable can reflect broader issues with the process for getting spare parts, and the problem 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 ships operating centre of the MoD’s arm’s-length procurement body Defence Equipment & Support met 55% of part demands from ship and submarine crews by the required date. This was against a target of 75%, while the submarine operating centre met 63% of demands (on a target 80%).
A £92m in-year cut to the maritime support budget in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 could lead to a further increase in the need to cannibalise parts, the report stated.
Responding to the report, a Royal Navy spokesperson said that less than half a percent of parts it uses come from swapping components, and this was done only “when it’s absolutely necessary to get ships out of port and back onto operations more quickly”.
Increasing complexity of vessels can mean it makes sense to take an existing component from one vessel which is not required at that time and put it on another that is needed back at sea.
“We continue to make improvements to how we manage this long-established practice,” he added.