Sailors unload spare parts from an MH-60R Seahawk on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) on March 22, 2022.

Sailors unload spare parts from an MH-60R Seahawk on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) on March 22, 2022. U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Coffer

Why Are Spare Parts on the Unfunded List? Senator Asks Navy's Top Officer

Sailors are cannibalizing parts to keep equipment operational.

If readiness is so important to the U.S. Navy, why are some spare parts on the service’s unfunded priorities list? 

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., pressed the Navy’s top officer on that point Tuesday. The chair of the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee brought up last August’s deadly crash of an MH-60S helicopter, which was caused by the failure of a damaged damper hose, which the senator said costs about $100,000.

“I think this committee wants to make sure we're providing our warfighters with the necessary funding to ensure that the equipment they're using is adequately maintained. It's pretty basic,” Tester told Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations; and Gen. David Berger, Marine Corps commandant. “That means getting the necessary spare parts and safety equipment up front, not after something like this happens.”

He noted that the Navy and Marine Corps’ unfunded priorities lists—items that service leaders want but not enough to devote part of this year’s budget to—include some categories of spare parts for warships, F/A-18 fighter jets, MH-60S helicopters, and more.

Tester wondered why spare parts would be on the unfunded priorities lists “when this seems pretty basic, at least to my perspective, as to making sure that we're keeping folks safe and effective in the field.”

The Navy’s top priority has been the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine program, Gilday said, followed by readiness and the spare parts associated with it. He said the Navy has “underinvested” in spare parts at sea to save money; he acknowledged that parts shortages were causing problems. He cited a February report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said sailors are cannibalizing other ships and resorting to work-arounds to keep equipment runnning. It also noted Navy efforts to track cannibalized parts and use the data to predict and fill future needs.

“So that's why in both our budget, with the secretary's help, and also in my unfunded list, we're trying to get back to where we need to be,” Gilday said. “You can't fool the fleet, you can't fool sailors, they know when they don't have the stuff that they need. And so, in our trips out to the fleet we've heard loud and clear that supply parts have been a problem. The GAO report confirmed that for us, and so we're trying to make things right with respect to spares.”

Those comments, Tester said, indicates to him that the spare parts should not have been placed on the Navy’s unfunded list.

“Sir, it's a valid point,” Gilday acknowledged.

For his part, Berger noted that some of the parts on the unfunded list are for aircraft also on that list, including KC-130J tankers.

Berger also mentioned “the fragility of our supply chain system” that has been revealed over the past year and a half, and that getting parts is taking longer and from fewer sources.

“So buying them ahead, as the CNO said, seems prudent going forward,” the commandant said.