Military Aircraft:

Cannibalizations Adversely Affect Personnel and Maintenance

GAO-01-693T: Published: May 22, 2001. Publicly Released: May 22, 2001.

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Neal P. Curtin
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All the military services extensively use cannibalization--the removal of a working component from one aircraft to install it on another--as a routine aircraft maintenance strategy. However, neither the Department of Defense nor the services know the overall magnitude of this practice. Cannibalizations increase maintenance costs by increasing workloads, may affect morale and the retention of personnel, and sometimes result in the unavailability of expensive aircraft for long periods of time. Cannibalizations also can create unnecessary mechanical problems for maintenance personnel. With the exception of the Navy, the services do not consistently track the specific reasons for cannibalizations. In the broadest sense, cannibalizations are done because of pressures to meet readiness and operational needs and the shortcomings of the supply system. In addition, a Navy study found that cannibalizations are sometimes done because mechanics are not trained well enough to diagnose problems or because testing equipment is either not available or not working. Although the services have undertaken some initiatives to reduce cannibalizations, none of them have developed a specific strategy to reduce the maintenance hours associated with cannibalizations. Because they view cannibalization as a symptom of spare parts shortages, the services have not closely analyzed other possible causes or made concerted efforts to measure the full extent of the practice.

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