There was an interesting juxtaposition of stories doing the rounds last week. A BBC broadcast noted a critical report on the UK Ministry of Defence stores of military spares, taking the MoD to task on the "waste" represented by the sheer quantities which are carried but are unlikely to ever be needed. The report cited a batch of spare propellers for a class of warship that was shortly to be sent for scrap.
However, that same day Lloyd's List Casualties mentioned the sad case of the Royal Australian Navy's latest acquisition of a major vessel, bought from the UK just last year. HMAS Choules will be out of action for "up to five months" after a worldwide search has failed to track down a spare transformer, after the ship was disabled by an electrical problem. A new unit will have to be manufactured in Germany before the ship can return to sea.
Chief Engineers and technical superintendents the world over will nod wisely over these items, recalling how the accountants are constantly telling them that all those spares which they like to carry are a cost they cannot afford. It now seems that the military are subject to the same strictures by the people who count the money.
The two stories probably demonstrate the impossibility of ever getting right the number of spares that need to be available to keep ships in operation. If one of those British frigates had lost a propeller and a spare was not promptly available, then heads would have rolled. The vulnerability of the largest unit in the Australian Navy has been illustrated by the present problem and while it is harder to cost the "offhire" of a naval unit, the denial of its services for so long will clearly be a burden on the taxpayer.
With spares, you can be too clever, running down the quantity carried aboard a fleet of ships with items carried only on some of the ships. The finance department will be delighted. Then, at a crucial time, the ship which does not have the spare on board suddenly needs it and there is a struggle to track down the necessary part and airlift it from the other end of the earth. There is clearly a balance to be struck, and the expertise of practical Chief Engineers needs to be sought to determine the level of spares that ships need to carry. It is not rocket science, but only an engineer is likely to be able to assess the odds of spares actually being needed. And if the Chief likes to be somewhat over-generous in his assessment, that is something the owner probably needs to indulge him with! It is an inexact science.
What also needs to be done is to assess the cost or consequences of the right spares not being available when they are required. The old poem which attributed the loss of a battle to the absence of a single horseshoe nail has a relevance in this assessment. What's the cost of a day's "downtime"? What's the cost and consequences of a breakdown requiring the services of salvors? What's the cost and consequences of what might happen, if that salvage tug is unavailable?
Source: BIMCO, Watchkeeper