Monday, April 25, 2016


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-Apr-2003,

(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, 19-Jul-2011,

(4)OPNAVINST 4440.19F N4, 5 Jun 2012,


  1. Shouldn't we address our ability to maintain our current fleet and airwing before we start building more ships? Especially really unique ships like the Zumwalt?

    1. Presumably if the senior leadership had that level of foresight, the US would not be in this problem to begin with.

  2. The other issue with cannibalization is the increase in maintenance burden since you're doing everything twice. You have to remove the good part from the source and then install good parts in both items (assuming you get a good part to replace the one you cannibalized) instead of just installing once.


  3. From what I've read of the Marines and their hornets, they aren't even doing that. They are just pulling parts off of old hornets and leaving them.

    1. Only in the short term. Aircraft go back to the manufacturer for servicing quite often, and when they go in is decided years in advance.
      You could strip an aircraft to get three others operational, and then have to strip three more to get the original operational and run up its flying hours in time for service.
      All to push the spares budget back a few months, insanity.

      Officially bone yarding an aircraft is quite a big deal.
      Any aircraft that is "bone yarded" will be stripped bare before hand of course.

  4. Remember, Michelle and Barack Obama's goal for the military was more political correctness not readiness. Michelle stated yesterday she was proud of the correctness now

    This is an outgrowth of that philosophy. More money after bad decisions with idiots being promoted beyond their ability. Aka Zumwalt, LCD, f35, the lack of spares for the navy and on and on. It's time to clean house because the current crop in charge is beyond saving

    1. Please keep the politics out of it but, yes, sadly, your central premise is true.

    2. I didn't mean for it to sound political. I meant to show that attitude and direction is set by the top and that current decisions are made in line with commander and chief objectives.

  5. I know its current policy for the army to swap parts for testing purposes or to take from a deadline vehicle to fix a deadline vehicle. Not knowing the nature of the parts being replaced, maybe its along the same lines?

    1. We're not talking about testing purposes. The Navy's cannibalization is for meeting readiness inspections. This results in the donor ship losing its readiness and conveys a false impression of readiness.

  6. Cannibalisation should be done only in times of shortage such as a state of war. I heard it is being done even outside of the us though

  7. Theres nothing wrong with having a documented process, its a very sensible idea.

    Processes and Procedures should represent follow reality. If they dont, they are utterly useless, harmful even.
    If it happens, there should be a procedure, and the procedure should document what *actually* happens, not what should happen.

    That said, there should be a process for cannibalisation, that process should show what occurs, and a key part of it should be a senate sub committee hearing and an admiral dragged over the coals.

    Yes, one of my many jobs is trying to explain exactly what a procedure is and what its for to director type folks...

    1. On the face of it, you're suggesting that because the Navy is allowing its ships to deteriorate from lack of maintenance, we should have a procedure to implement that deterioration. That's insane!

      It's like saying because people commit crimes we should have a procedure to guide people in the commission of crimes.

      I think you're trying to make some other point and I'm missing it.

    2. "On the face of it, you're suggesting that because the Navy is allowing its ships to deteriorate from lack of maintenance, we should have a procedure to implement that deterioration. That's insane!"

      Pretty much yeah.
      Think of it like having a procedure for retreating after getting the **** kicked out of you.
      Its not a procedure you hope to implement, but when you are outnumbered, surrounded and outgunned, you dont want to be starting off with improvise.

      I very brief, the process would go something like.
      Widget A is replaced every 6 months or 100hrs of use, whichever comes first.
      If a replacement is unavailable, raise a Special Order Request and copy in x / y / z important people
      If a replacement is unavailable after 7 months or 110hrs of use, raise an Emergency Order Request and copy in a / b /c important people
      If a replacement is unavailable after 8 months or 120hrs of use, Widget A is no longer safe and must be deactivated, and either the asset grounded/ported or widget A replaced with a used Widget, situation and resolution reported to SecDef, SecNav, POTUS, whoever.

      A process covers EVERY eventuality.
      Its not a blurb on sunshine and rainbows, if it can happen, its in the procedure, because its important to know whether widget A not being replaced after 100hrs of use means Widget A needs to be turned off and things carry on, or the entire asset needs to be turned off.
      The ideal is that widget A is replaced every 100hrs, the process to achieve that goal is that if there isnt a widget A on the stores shelf available, is that its reported to the Squadron commander, and if he dpesnt fix it, the whatever, and if he does, senate.
      Its not saying its good, its making sure you can monitor the bad

  8. Interesting article about this one:

    Submarines apparently have the worst cases of cannibalization.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.