The most senior civil servant at the MoD has told the Public Accounts Committee that it is “perfectly reasonable” to cannibalise parts from vessels to ensure operational availability.

This comes not after a recent National Audit Office report claiming that there has been a 49 per cent rise in parts being cannibalised from Royal Navy vessels to fix others in the fleet.

Stephen Lovegrove, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence. said:

“I wouldn’t rule out the chances of that, there are certain bits of equipment on the Prince of Wales which may find themselves being repurposed for use on the Queen Elizabeth. I think that would be potentially a perfectly reasonable thing to do if it were not to compromise the operational schedules of either of the two boats.”

Lovegrove said he is “not uncomfortable” with the level of cannibalisation and discussing the ‘helpfulness’ of the NAO report he said:

“It has shone a very helpful light on some of the ways in which we go around managing our maintenance schedules and our stores. The area where I would like the teams to concentrate more are on the parts which are repeatedly cannibalised because that would indicate we are getting something not quite right in that area.”

The MoD argue that increasing complexity in technology on platforms can mean it makes sense to take an existing component from one vessel which is not required at that time and put it on one that is to deploy, rather than waiting around for new supplies to be delivered before the vessel can sail.

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.

The National Audit Office warned:

“Each instance of equipment cannibalisation can delay programmes, create additional engineering risks and add to the work of staff, affecting morale.”


We contacted the MoD who told us that a Royal Navy spokesperson said:

“Less than half a percent of parts we use come from swapping components, and we only do this when it’s absolutely necessary to get ships out of port and back onto operations more quickly. We continue to make improvements to how we manage this long-established practice.”

The practice is reportedly only used when all other sources of supply have been explored. The MoD also say that the new £1bn support model they announced will enhance the way they manage spares and repairs across the fleet.


  1. Whos this guy Stephen Lovegrove, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence
    A typical Civil Servant
    Has no clue whatsoever
    Bean counter who probably dosnt know the difference between the bow and the stern
    Calling the carriers BOATS
    The mind boggles

  2. Agreed BW,

    I have no idea about mechanics, but even what I do know is that you could have 2 different engines and they wear components out differently due to small differences in set up or manufacturing, therefore sending an already used or worn in part to another vessel could actually do more harm than good, but as I’ve said I am useless with mechanical things.

    Gunbusters will know all about this.

    What I do know about is operational processes and this guy is talking rubbish again. The MOD should have at least 1 part for every moving item on the ship – barring something so prohibitively expensive as to not warrant it.

    Given the size of our fleet and the fact we have training facilities for engineers I would expect us to have whole engines (Warisa etc) of varying sizes in stock or at least be able to get our hands on them at very short notice.

    Lastly, the RN needs to standardise as much of its M&T as possible to ensure the parts inventory can be more substantial.

    You can’t have it all ways – reduced, older fleet at higher operational tempo will wear through parts more than a properly funded and renewed fleet. Sadly this guy Lovegrove would seem to be avoiding answering elected officials truthfully and transparently.

    • Its not physically practicable to carry a spare for everything. When the kit is bought its component parts MTBF ( Mean Time between failure) is known and from that info you work out what on board stores you may need. You also account for replacing items to keep OC available should something break down.
      However…( There is always a however)
      Sometimes the MTBF is never reached and the spares item sits on the ship or shore side for years. During that time it may incur costs for just being on the shelf. Modification updates to Circuit boards and software, maintenance tests, renewing seals that are life expired, hydraulic hoses that are life expired even though they have never been used. Keeping pressure tested equipment in date for test IAW the maintenance schedules. The list goes on and on.
      Invariably the item you need is not always available in the Naval Store due to the Sods Law rule that catastrophic failure happens and that you cannot plan for it.
      So the Loggies order up the spare on a priority system.
      Sometimes its not available anywhere, even from the manufacturer so you end up
      STOROB ing it from a low priority unit. That decision is not taken lightly and is controlled by a group at Fleet HQ who know whats been taken from who and transferred to where.

      The other issue is that in the past Naval Systems have not used COTS parts and so have had specialist manufacturing runs of a very small number of parts. This is not cost effective for the Navy or the Manufacturer. That has changed of late with more COTS equipment and components being used to build systems.
      But Haddon Cave raises its head again.
      You must know where a spare comes from for a system. Is it made from a suitable material ? What is its MTBF? Is it going to last as long as say a DEFSTAN specified item? .
      Being in the UK or a foreign country doesn’t mean you can just go out with the MOD credit card to buy COTS items. It may mean the stuff you get isn’t original OEM even though it says it is …Bearings for instance are notorious for being knock off copies that fail in short order
      Whilst the Supply system isn’t perfect its the best way we have of managing spares and in these days of value for money and keeping costs low at the tail so the teeth can bite you have to live with it.

  3. nothing wrong with reusing its always happened lion was stripped to keep blake and tiger operational tiger had so many bits off lion, it was called liger!

  4. If the type 31e has easily configurable weapons mounts, which it almost certainly will, then we should be “canabilising” them so the weapons (e.g. CIWS) are on-duty more than the ships, this would allow more ships in the long run.

    We could also apply the same logistics to VLS, the more swappable these components become the better value for money we get and the greater the flexibilty and firepower of the entire fleet.

  5. What if there were a major war? Wouldn’t we need to deploy every asset to meet the threat? That would be impossible if half of our equipment were missing pieces.

  6. Well, if you nearly always have say a T45 in for refit, repair or maintenance, and even if in just for shore leave, then I see no harm in swapping out a spare for an operational “boat”, as the one in port wouldn’t be going out for a week or two. Then order up the spare or even get a couple or a few if it turns out to be a part that goes more often than others. Specially if it needs to be made to order or set up in any way, it’d be cheaper per unit to do 2 or 3 at a time than just 1 at a time.

    Keeping spares isn’t just the extra cost of the spares it’s storage and inventory-keeping, and getting it to where needed, and that costs money. Yes it’d be desirable to have full sets of spares for every ship afloat, but that would probably be the equivalent in terms of cost of say 3 frigates!

    If the process is handled “algorithmically” keeping track of parts that go wrong often against the ones that don’t, it’s a very efficient way of keeping costs down, but ships operational.

    • I forgot the magic words “just in time”. If it’s just in time then all well and good, if it’s not, then boo 🙂

    • I also forgot the other thing. If it’s a part that’s likely to become superseded or upgraded, the fewer spares kept the better.

  7. This is not new. When I was on HMS Devonshire in 1972 it was common practice to get “spares” for Seaslug from other County Class at Fountain Lake Jetty. It was joked that we only had enough components to get 6 of the 8 operational!

    • while i was on antrim, i seemed to spend more time on kent robbing everything from wiring, to entire pieces of the main machinery, including parts of the main gun!

  8. I was told from a reliable source that the 6 in number T45s we have is only because the MOD cut the T45 stores package to the bone. If MOD wanted the stores package they would have only had 5 units.
    So they made the choice and the RN got 6 T45s and a Cluster Cluck of stores issues to manage on them.
    So what was the right answer…More ships less stores or more stores less ships??


    • I think thats the key point for me GB.. You can’t have it all, resilience needs to be factored in through a combination of fleet renewal, spares and volume of fleet. The rest is smart inventory which can be done.

      I accept your view to my initial statement and understand parts expire etc. But we now have a perfect storm of a non standardised, ageing fleet operating at a high tempo with a seemingly low volume of parts (If 49% increase in cannabalisation is to be believed).

      It think the FSL is tackling this in part, by retiring old ships to make way for new orders and his plan to sell off at mid life point, in part to keep production up and in part I suspect to reduce the huge maintenance costs that seem to have overtaken the RN’s budget in particular.

      So to answer your question, more newer ships, sold at 15 years to friendly allies and further standardisation across the fleet.

    • For me, at its bare bones, get the hulls in the water and if neccessary, kit them out later. As for spares, it’s what they have engineers, crew, duct tape and chewing gum for.

      ‘Twas always so.

  9. Gunbuster and this MoD fellah brilliantly explained why all these cries for ‘keep Ocean’ or ‘should have kept Invincible’ do not face the reality that everything wears out eventually and there comes a point of ‘diminishing returns’. Build to a working life, sell it a bit short of that and build another is far better policy and cheaper in the long run with the added benefit of built in modernity

    I make no claims to understand the Navy jargon but as someone who worked in Logistics (which is a military concept after all) any new SKU will be ordered by the customer in the numbers expected for it to be used given its projected failure rate. So in Automotive terms you will hold thousands of bearings but not too many engine blocks.

    A good maintenance regime will react to the failure rates vs projected rates and trigger the logistics side to adjust stocks. Tough if you expected thousands of engine blocks to fail and they didn’t because again as GB says they will possibly be useless as production upgrades are introduced.

    I cannot see too much wrong with taking something off a ship in refit to keep an active ship working.


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