Investigation into equipment cannibalisation in the Royal Navy

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The National Audit Office has today published the findings from its investigation into equipment cannibalisation in the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy operates ships, submarines and helicopters, which comprise complex systems made up of thousands of parts, to meet the United Kingdom’s defence requirements. The Navy needs additional parts to maintain and repair its equipment. When vessels require parts that are unavailable and no other solution is available, the Ministry of Defence (the Ministry) can authorise that they are taken from other equipment – a process known as equipment cannibalisation.

The key findings of the investigation are:

Equipment cannibalisation can be necessary but should only happen when no other solution is available. The Ministry guidance states “cannibalisation will only be conducted where no other solution is available.” Decision-makers consider operational priorities and the estimated time to obtain new parts. In the last five years, between 0.3 per cent and 1.4 per cent of parts provided to the main classes of ships and submarines have been cannibalised parts. However, each instance has a wider impact beyond the part being replaced and can signify broader issues with the process for getting spare parts. 

Across ships and submarines, equipment cannibalisation has increased 49 per cent 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 cannibalisation. 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 per cent 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 defence requirements. In 2016-17, ship and submarine equipment cannibalisation accounted for 60 per cent of instances across the Navy. Navy Merlin helicopters make up the remaining 40 per cent. 

Some 40 per cent 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 per cent 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.

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