The Royal Navy has been having a rough ride in the news of late, what with sex and drugs scandals on nuclear-armed submarines, aircraft carriers with no aircraft, and proposed cuts to landing ships and the Royal Marines amongst other issues.

Now we learn from the National Audit Office that “equipment cannibalisation” is rife in the Senior Service. In other words, bits have to be taken from some ships, submarines, aircraft and so on and handed over to keep others working and operational. Conversely, of course, those from which the equipment is taken become unavailable.

During 2016-17 there were 795 instances of cannibalisation in the Navy, some 66 per month, with 40% of ships and submarines receiving cannibalised equipment so they could be ready for operations or training.

It is hardly good news. This widespread practice can and does impact adversely on equipment procurement programmes, create additional engineering risks, and add to costs and staff workloads. Above everything else, it is bad for morale.

I have personal experience of equipment cannibalisation, albeit in an army context. In the run up to the 1991 Gulf War Britain struggled, amazingly, to put 7 Armoured Brigade – one brigade – into the field with the appropriate level of spares and logistic support. My regiment, the 4th Royal Tank Regiment (Scotland’s Own), was based in Osnabruck in Germany and equipped with 57 Chieftain tanks.

One day, unannounced, squads of technicians and engineers descended on the regiment in barracks and stripped anything of worth from our tanks to send to the Gulf as spares – gun barrels, engines, laser sights, the lot. Such was their haste that oftentimes they cut through cables rather than unscrew fastenings. We were left with 57 useless hulks.

It was a sore blow to take for soldiers who prided themselves on the excellent state of their vehicles.

Why does this happen? The answer is, as ever, financial. When new ships, tanks, and aircraft are procured, part of the package is the proper provision of spares and logistic support. But when the procurement budget rises, as it inevitably does, the first thing to be cut to save cash is usually the support package. Politicians like to show off the shiny weapons systems, not the spares.

So we end up with insufficient logistic support to support the weapons systems in service. The way round this? Proper financing of defence procurement and no further slicing of costs for political expediency.

It is often said there are no votes in defence. That may be true, but our courageous service men and women surely deserve the proper resources to do the job we ask them to do.

Stuart Crawford is a defence and security commentator.