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.