Report: Parts-swapping is common across Navy

Report: Parts-swapping is common across Navy

Crews aboard one in every two ships across the Navy “cannibalized” spare parts from their neighbors in order to get operationally ready or pass an inspection, according to a report Tuesday in Jane’s Defence Weekly. According to data obtained by naval correspondent Sam LaGrone in the wake of last week’s House hearing about Navy readiness, the Navy’s submarine force — legendary for its preoccupation with safety and detail — is the biggest culprit in the fleet.

Top Navy officials admitted to the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee last week that the fleet’s cannibalization rates were high, but at the time, neither they nor lawmakers gave details. Now, here they are.

Wrote LaGrone:

The US Navy (USN) is relying heavily on a maintenance option the service considers “a drastic measure to only be utilised as a last resort” to allow its ships to pass their basic inspections and maintain the operational effectiveness of its fleet, according to previously unreleased data provided to the US Congress and obtained by Jane’s .

In four consecutive quarters in 2010 the USN reported a rate of so-called “cannibalisation” of components between ships of on average twice the current allowable maximum allowed limit (MAL) of about one instance per four ships (.28), according to the data.

He continues:

Across the fleet in 2010, the USN saw an average rate of cannibalisation of .48, or about one instance per two ships across the entire year. Across the nine ship classes identified in the data, five ship classes exceeded the MAL.

The US submarine force had by far the highest instances of cannibalisation, according to the data. In the first three months of 2010 US nuclear attack boats (SSNs) and Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) saw a collective cannibalisation rate of 1.4, or about one-and-a-half instances per ship …

Submarine tenders, auxiliary ships and amphibious warships had the least instances of cannibalisation in the data, well below the current MAL. Many of the cases were justified by the navy in reaction to an October 2009 order from Commander, Naval Surface Forces (NAVSURFOR), to maximise readiness rates of deployed or soon-to-be deployed surface ships, according to an explanation that accompanied the data; NAVSURFOR sought to minimise equipment casualty reports on so-called “deployers”. Additionally, ships undergoing USN Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) inspections raided nearby ships’ equipment for supplies in order to pass, the USN said in its explanation to Congress.

“Often times cannibalisations occur with potential assets available. However, the timeframe prior to training events or operational requirements do not support the needed order and shipping time (current system goal is 10 days),” read an 18 July statement provided to Jane’s from the US Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV). The statement indicated that fleet cannibalisation numbers have decreased to .20 for the first quarter of 2011. The navy also defended its supply lines and systems.

“An evaluation of all cannibalisations for Fiscal Year 10 did not identify any particular weapon systems as the primary cause and determined that the supply system is performing at or above goals,” read the USN statement.

Wait, what? If ships across the fleet, including nuclear-powered submarines, can’t get spares in time through the normal supply chain and need to borrow them from one another under an informal swap-process the Navy itself calls a “drastic measure” and “last resort,” how could the supply chain be “performing at or above goals?”

Why, in fact, does the Navy have official data about a practice it condemns? Here’s one theory: In the rough and ready, pirate’s-life-for-me world of the surface force, crews may have been swapping parts and keeping pretty loose about their documentation, under the Navy Standard You-Scratch-My-Back-I’ll-Scratch-Yours Doctrine. But when you’ve got a bunch of nukes trying to get their submarines ready for an inspection or a deployment, their pure nuke hearts just can’t accept parts from another boat on the waterfront without pristine, extensive, signed-in-triplicate documentation. So Big Navy learned about it one way or another and someone said, well, no way we can stop this, so we might as well monitor it.

Since it’s a last resort and it’s discouraged, that probably means it goes on even more than these numbers indicate.

One team, one fight, right? These guys are all on the same side, you could argue, and it’s a testament to sailors’ dedication that they’re willing to beg, borrow and steal to stay ready and get the job done. Maybe there’s no way to build a bureaucracy such that it can get components on time to everywhere they’re needed, forcing some crews to do without in order to help their colleagues. From the way the Navy’s statement to LaGrone sounds, it has given up trying.

Join the Conversation

When I was active duty we had the same issue, lack of spares and a huge lack of support from the supply pukes.
When will the Navy realize that you need to have spare “on-board.” You can’t wait for the supply pukes to “sit on” your requisition for three weeks and then claim they “lost it” making you re-submit, then they send the form back to you a week later saying it isn’t correct, and then they ask you to resubmit again, by this time your really mad and you complain to your department head, and somehow the XO hears about it and then he come down and craps all over you for “making life hard on the supply clerks,” who are only “trying to do their jobs.”

Big deal. This is what military air forces do to keep their jets in the air too. Every base has “can jets” for spare parts. I give up complaining about it. It is an unfortunate practice, but it sometimes the game gives satisfaction. I have had suspicions in the past that some equipment was deliberately left to die on the vine by inadequate spares budgeting. It is amusing to see the frustration of the budgeteers as the maintainers mix and match spares from the can jets to keep ‘em flyin’. They can be quite ingenious. Maybe it’s good practice for actual wartime when there won’t be any spares either. I think it is going to get worse.

It has been a way of life in the Navy for a long time. I spent 22 years in Naval Aviation and we cannibalised on a routine basis as the Suppy System could not support our demands and operational requirements. Even if an item was in stock on station it would 8 hours to get a part delivered to repair a down aircraft. So to meet operational requirements we canniblised from the “hangar queen”. The maintenance data reporting system for Naval Aviation even has codes to document these actions. Until supply chain management and sparing comes up to par with commerical standards, sailors will be cannibalising parts.

A lot of the times it has to do with scheduling, if an identified parts is not readily avail we would go through squadron to get it from a boat in stand down or the yard to meet our schedule and keep from having to keep another sub on station longer. Our new part that was ordered will go to the boat we got it from. Also for high ware parts we would hit the boats going through decom. Most of the time these parts are major valves — control valves — solenoids — or electronic components, not for software or repair parts. Subs dont have the avail to run on one side or the other to get underway. all systems must be fully operational, only in emergencies can we isolate part of a system for a short period to make repairs, otherwise we have to surface or pull in to port.

“Wait, what? If ships across the fleet, including nuclear-powered submarines, can’t get spares in time through the normal supply chain and need to borrow them from one another under an informal swap-process the Navy itself calls a “drastic measure” and “last resort,” how could the supply chain be “performing at or above goals?”“
Easy, the Navy isn’t willing to purchase enough parts in advance of when they’re needed. They wait till something breaks to order its replacement and don’t keep enough warehoused and on hand.

i’m 100% in agreement. it’s not even ready spares/critical spares. pencils? PENS? how do you take logs when you only get consumables once, maybe twice a year?! the real issue here is in fac tthe supply chain. people in supply claim it’s not their problem nor do they care to make it so. Also, the week long process for rejecting bad orders? If it was my job to get the paper right, i would be a box kicker. my job isn’t to make it perfect, simply to express my needs, do you think they could operate our gear with a simple 301 card? no. by the way, happy 719 Day, here’s to the mighty P, one of the few Long Block 688’s.

WHat I failed to mention above is that in 95% percent of the cannibalizations it is always a couple of days before underway and you find a crack in a valve body (we are talking major system valve,) or along the lines of a fire control interface pannel or switch that fried, it is never because of packing — o rings — fuzes and the such. Most of this happens OCONUS, in Hawaii — Guam — Japan where it could take more than a week to fly in the part plus the 24 hrs to replace and test. In reality it is a good thing, why have ten 21″ diam 3 way ball valves sitting at every navy base that cost 100,000.00 ea and may never be required.

I worked CV shipboard AIMD for 4 years. Towards the end of a deployment or sometimes before a good port-of-call, squadrons were under pressure to make sure that all aircraft could be FMC, so the “org” level folks would pull whole sytems out instead of isolating to the WRU. We would get swamped with the boxes, which we would have to test. Of course, we were also under pressure to minimize down time so we would test the boxes, find the worst ones, bypass supply and cannibalize them for their parts. We would get as much out the door as possible — “When in doubt, send it out. Don’t ask why, just RFI”, then “Z” code the carcasses and send them to shore AIMD’s.

yeah I don’t know who’s worse, a supply puke or a human resource people.

More proof that the Military needs to drop dumb program like the ICC competition and the new bomber and concentrate on maintenance for now.

Wow…why is this even news? Working at a shipyard on submarines, cannibalization is common practice. Submarines get decommissioned and the parts that can be salvaged are taken from them to be used on active ships. Did they count this fact in they’re statistics? My shipyard has decommissioned a number of submarines in the last few years. They’re hulls are only designed to last so long. In defense of the supply system, it is essential that certain components be reused from these ships, as the vendor markets are getting smaller and less reliable. When your “supply puke” cannot obtain material for you, it may not be his fault. Even as a shipyard with a couple years to pre-plan, parts can be hard to come by. If you are an active sailor, I would suggest ordering spares for your own toolbox/cabinet. Order it ahead of time, don’t blame it on your storekeeper for not getting it quick enough. Running a ship (sub or surface) is a consolidated effort. Work together.

Spares is a low priority for funding. It goes along the lines of “why buy parts to sit on warehouse shelves?” However, many parts will sit for years and then get sent to Salvage because the need is not there. So shelf supply goes from 8 to 3. Quess what? Four squadrons have two each fail on their jets in short order and they can’t get the spares from Supply because they aren’t there any more. In a month or two, someone runs over to the local civilian salvage place and buys back the items at an exorbitant price. Then they have to be tested and certified at more expense. What a racket!

Why is this news??? Its been a way of life as long as I was in (28yrs).….

Supply operates within constraints. All the line guys would like to fill every nook and cranny of the ship with spares — except the money to buy them doesn’t exist. System-wide stock levels are designed based on DATA and RISK ASSESSMENT, not on wish lists; stocks are allocated based on most probable need and locality. We simply can’t afford each ship to drive around with “ten of everything.” It doesn’t work like that — be realistic. Cannibalization, parts swapping, and “hangar queens” are just make-do maintenance practices, a fact of life that probably can’t be avoided without inefficient expenditures of taxpayer money — which would result in large quantities of stock sitting around waiting to be ordered and going obsolete in the meantime.

NDMGD you are right on. This is not a simple blame Supply. Those guys/gals are the end users and work in constraints as you mentioned. The problem with simple ideals as BigRick posted is lack of knowledge. On the one hand he doesn’t want to take the time to ensure the requisition is correct, but expect the Supply guys to intepret his desires and order the correct part. Everyone’s job is equally important. Weather you are turning the wrench or ordering the parts. Maybe if everyone focused more on teamwork than blame, we would maintain readiness a little easier. Back to the original article, the swapping of parts and personnel is directly tied to budget battle well over the heads of the LSs in Supply. This has been going on for years. I am just glad big brass is finally acknowledging it.

For the 23 years I did USN duty, we cannablized. The spares availability, supply response, etc was much as described above.
It wasnt till I did some 25 years in EMDs and R and D design work for LM and MDC that I learned about a science called Reliability, Maintainability and Supportability. The EMD phase figures out the algorithims that support the eventual spares buys. The R, ILS and M, engineers do this for a living. Thier Calcs govern the systems that are eventually put out to the fleet or the USAF.
IF these calcs are fudged, wrong or just pie in the sky for CDR approval, then the calcs get translated and laid into the Supply system streams of purchase.
So, add the stress of use, the stress of high failure rates, the stress of mistakes in logistics by the DOD folks and you end up with the same old system.… Cannabilze to stay alive.
Semper FI

As another retired airdale I agree, cannibalizing was a way of life particularly at sea. A particular squadron may deploy with 10 fighters but at least 1 or 2 quickly became a parts pig to enable the others to make their sorties.


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