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Pentagon dogged by rash of accidents, errors

A U.S. sub fatally collides with a Japanese fishing vessel. A Navy warplane accidentally bombs soldiers during war exercises. Half the missiles aimed at radar targets near Baghdad miss their mark. Missile-defense tests keep going awry.

Recent high-profile accidents and failures are not connected, analysts say, but they do underscore problems the military is having with readiness and morale.

"There is going to be an inevitable risk when you push the envelope, whether it's doing night drills in training or testing new weapons systems based on principles never deployed before," said Daniel Goure, a defense analyst at the private Lexington Institute.

During last year's presidential campaign, George W. Bush warned about "a military in decline," citing inadequate training, broken equipment, too few spare parts and too many overseas deployments.

As president, Bush has ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to undertake a top-to-bottom review of all Pentagon programs and weapons systems.

"We're in pretty good shape over the course of the next decade, I hope _ so long as our mission is defined and we don't try to be all things to all people in the world, kind of endless deployments," Bush said on Tuesday.

The Defense Department has had to explain in recent days how a nuclear submarine could have rammed a Japanese trawler off Hawaii on Feb. 9, killing nine people; and why six military personnel were killed on Monday when a Navy jet bombed the wrong location during war games in Kuwait.

"There is a problem somewhere in our training, and I think we need to find out what the problem is and get it solved before we lose more people," said Mike Freligh, the father of one of those killed in Kuwait, 25-year-old Army Sgt. Phillip M. Freligh.

"There are too many accidents happening," he told CBS.

In other recent military accidents, a plane carrying members of a National Guard engineering crew crashed on March 3 in Georgia, killing all 21 people on board, and two Army helicopters collided on Feb. 14 during a night training exercise near Honolulu, killing six men.

Two crashes last year of the troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft _ which blends qualities of a helicopter and a plane _ killed 23 Marines. A Pentagon review is under way.

There also have been embarrassing incidents of technology failures.

More than half of the precision-guided weapons the Navy used in the Feb. 16 attack on Iraqi radar sites went astray. Defense officials later said that on-board sensors had too little time to adjust the bombs' flight path to account for heavy winds.

And so far, the Pentagon has failed in two of three attempts to shoot down a mock ballistic missile in space as part of early testing of a national missile defense system.

These accidents, blunders and technological failures have come at a time when the Pentagon is working hard to maintain its equipment, compete with private industry and boost re-enlistment rates.

"I don't think we know enough yet to make an argument that these accidents are readiness problems. That would be jumping to the wrong conclusion," said Michele Flournoy, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"That said, I think there are specific instances of real readiness shortfalls," including equipment shortages and "tempo strains" from over-deployment, added Flournoy.

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