The practice of “cannibalising” parts between ships, submarines and helicopters in the Royal Navy has increased 49% over the past five years, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
In a report the NAO said there was a total of 3,230 instances, involving 6,378 parts, between 2012 and 2017 when used parts were swapped for reasons including readying equipment for operations and avoiding delays to planned maintenance.
The report said the increase came against the background of a reduction in the number of ships and submarines, meaning a higher proportion need to be ready for deployment, and budget cuts, including decisions not to catalogue parts or buy complete technical information that would help engineers conduct maintenance. In the past two years the Navy has reduced its maritime support budget by 6%, or £271m.
The NAO said cannibalisation was “exacerbated” by “lack of information about when parts will be delivered and delays in receiving parts on time”. It said in March 2017 Defence Equipment & Supply failed to meet targets to provide parts by the required date and of more than 17,000 ship part demands that were past their delivery date, a third had no forecast delivery date.
The report said the most cannibalised parts included non-safety critical valves (costing on average £2,541) and chilled water systems (£24,856), while the part most often repeatedly transferred across equipment was a magazine torpedo launch system circuit card assembly, worth £6,750.
However, the majority of cannibalised parts between 2012 and 2017 (991) were worth less than £99 and 71% (2,731) were worth less than £5,000.
The NAO said the Ministry of Defence did not routinely monitor the use, causes and impact of cannibalisation but departmental analysis covering Type 23 frigates in 2012 showed in half of cases the cost of equipment cannibalisation was equal to or greater than the cost of a new part. In a quarter of cases it was four times greater.
The report said cannibalisation posed a number of risks including increased costs, damage occurring while parts are removed or replaced and a demoralising effect on personnel. Delays to the Astute-class submarine production line due to cannibalisation resulted in the MoD paying an extra £4.9m for the third submarine, said the NAO.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.