A lack of spare parts has grounded an increasing number of critical Air Force aircraft in recent years, the General Accounting Office has found. In a new report, "Air Force Inventory: Parts Shortages are Impacting Operations and Maintenance Effectiveness" (GAO-01-587
), GAO concluded that parts shortages are taking a growing toll on the readiness of two aging aircraft, the E-3 reconnaissance plane and C-5 cargo plane. In fiscal 2000, a lack of spare parts kept nearly two dozen C-5s on the ground, while 11 percent of all E-3 aircraft were not mission-ready because of shortages of parts. Air Force officials cited the difficulty of forecasting demand for spare parts and the closure of two Air Force depots as the top reasons for the shortages, according to GAO. In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ordered the Air Force to trim down from five to three depots. A surge in workload at the remaining three depots has caused delays in repair work, according to Defense officials. The Air Force is taking steps to improve how it forecasts where parts will be needed. The Air Force Materiel Command is crafting a model to better predict where shortages will appear, and the command is also exploring ways to have contractors directly provide maintenance workers with needed parts. Better forecasting will reduce the need to "cannibalize" aircraft for spare parts, a practice where mechanics take parts from one aircraft and install them on another. GAO and the Pentagon have found that cannibalization increases wear and tear on parts and hurts morale.