Anecdotally, the Navy unofficially sanctions the practice of cannibalization as a means of meeting short term readiness and inspections. Intuitively, this is wrong – badly wrong – because the readiness of one unit is obtained at the expense of another. Worse, the practice masks readiness and supply issues that should be dealt with by the chain of command, thereby providing a false sense of readiness.
The Navy defines cannibalization as the removal of parts from an active unit or piece of equipment to another unit in order to enable the readiness or meet inspections. In addition to cannibalization, the Navy also recognizes and defines another type of parts swapping called cross-decking. The difference is that cross-decking involves the swapping of parts from the inventory (non-active) of one unit to another in order to enable readiness or meet inspections.
Does the Navy actually recognize and condone cannibalization or is ComNavOps just being sensationalistic? Well, unbelievably, the Navy has an official policy defining the practice and establishing rules for its use. Ironically, the policy condemns the practice while simultaneously establishing procedures for doing it!
“Cannibalizations between active fleet units shall not be a normal peacetime practice and will be considered an acceptable option only after all other logistics support alternatives have been exhausted.” (4)
So, in a typically Navy form of insanity, the practice is “banned” and yet procedures are established to regulate it and metrics have been set up to monitor it!
Anecdotal evidence aside, how pervasive is the problem? Do we have any data? Here’s some old data from a Dynamics Research Corporation report.
“… reports show that in FY 1996-2000, the Navy and Air Force performed 850,000 cannibalizations requiring over 5 million maintenance man-hours—which translates to between 154,000 and 176,000 cannibalizations a year (and this does not even include the Army, and the Navy reportedly understates its data by as much as 50%) (Government Accountability Office, 2001)” (1)
The degree of underreporting of data may be significant, according to a GAO report.
“The Air Force and the Navy, however, do not report all cannibalizations, and how much the Army uses cannibalizations is not known because it requires that only very selected cannibalizations be reported. As a result, total Servicewide figures may be considerably higher than those officially reported.” (2)
“During the 5-year period under study (fiscal years 1996-2000), the Navy reported approximately 468,000 cannibalizations, or on average, about 94,000 a year. … However, according to recent studies, the actual number of cannibalizations may be much higher. In fiscal year 1998, a Navy group noted that as many as half of all Navy cannibalizations may go unreported. In April 2000, the Navy Inspector General also confirmed that cannibalizations were being consistently underreported and that commanders were concerned that cannibalization was becoming an accepted maintenance practice.”
Much of the above data is for aircraft. How are ships doing?
“In four consecutive quarters in 2010 the USN reported a rate of so-called “cannibalization” 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.
Across the fleet in 2010, the USN saw an average rate of cannibalization of .48, or about one instance per two ships across the entire year. “ (3)
We see, then, that the Navy allows a cannibalization rate of one instance per four ships and that the actual rate is about every other ship. According to this data (likely vastly underreported), every other ship in the fleet is not currently mission ready. If we apply the 50% underreporting factor that GAO suggests, the cannibalization rate becomes 0.96 which is almost every ship in the fleet!
What’s the Navy’s response to the apparent severe problem? Here’s the salient excerpt from the then CNO.
“… the supply system is performing at or above goals,” read the USN statement.” (3)
So, the Navy would have us believe that the supply system is functioning at or above goals and yet the practice of cannibalization is widespread. Seems like a contradiction, there. Even faced with hard documentation (set aside the fact that the problem is vastly underreported) of a serious problem, the Navy claims all is well. Outstanding!
Commanders are fired on a regular and frequent basis for “loss of confidence” in their ability to command. Where are the firings of the CNO and other upper leaders of the Navy for failure to provide the parts and ensure actual readiness of the ships under their command? I don’t know about you but I’ve lost confidence in their ability to command.
(1)Dynamics Research Corporation, “Cannibalization in the Military: A Viable Sustainment Strategy?”, Peter Bogdanowicz,
(2)GAO, “MILITARY AIRCRAFT Services Need Strategies to Reduce Cannibalizations”, GAO-02-86, Nov 2001,
(3)DoDBuzz Website, “Report: Parts-swapping is common across Navy”, Philip Ewing,
(4)OPNAVINST 4440.19F N4,
5 Jun 2012,