- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Two military calamities in the Pacific are raising new questions about the readiness of America's armed forces.

Investigators have just begun trying to determine what caused the attack submarine Greeneville to collide with a Japanese fishing vessel on Friday off the Hawaii coast and why two Army UH-60 Black Hawks crashed Monday during nighttime training on the island of Oahu.

But the back-to-back fatal accidents have some military analysts concerned that a lack of flying or training hours could be a factor.

Jack Spencer, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said "it's really hard to make any judgments on these sorts of things this close after they occur."

But he added, "One thing is for sure that training has been underfunded for a number of years now and the result of inadequate training is going to be more accidents. We often think of it leading to more bloodshed in warfare, but we see how inadequate training can certainly lead to accidents in everyday operations."

Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, became so alarmed by a rash of Navy surface ship accidents he ordered a one-day safety "stand down" in September.

Statistics show that the Navy experienced an increase in the rate of "Class A" accidents in 2000. A Class A accident is defined as one causing one or more fatalities and/or at least $1 million in damage.

The Navy's rate of 12.87 accidents per 100,000 sailors in the early 1990s dipped to 11.66 in the late 1990s before climbing to 12.59 last year.

Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said "we don't have any indication" any surface ship accidents stemmed from overdeployments or lack of training.

"The purpose of the stand down was to take a look at seamanship and navigation and focus on leadership and equipment handling," she said. "On any given day, more than half the 315 ships we have are under way and performing magnificently."

The armed forces, with its 1.37 million personnel and kept busy by a decade of wars and peacekeeping, began reporting combat readiness shortfalls in 1998. They complained of a lack of fuel and spare parts, which adversely affects the daily availability of aircraft and flying hours for aviators.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff has asked Congress to approve $7 billion in immediate emergency aid, some of which would cover training contracts and flying hours. But President Bush is refusing to commit to any new defense funding this year, at least until he sees the early results of studies he ordered into altering the force for future threats.

Some recent accidents and deployment glitches have been directly linked to readiness woes:

• A Navy inspector general investigation of carrier aviation said more than half of the laser-guided bombs missed their targets in Kosovo in 1999. The IG said pilots lacked target-imaging systems used to learn how to drop munitions from F-14 Tomcats and F-18 Hornets.

• The Army faced embarrassing delays in readying a task force of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters for war in Kosovo. Two Apaches crashed while training over Albania's mountainous terrain. Commanders blamed the problem-plagued deployment on a lack of training hours for aviators and too few experienced pilots.

• An Army investigation into the relatively few Airborne troops who mistreated Kosovar civilians found that the soldiers were not properly trained in peacekeeping duties before being deployed.

• Two Air Force HH-60 Pavehawk rescue helicopters collided in flight and crashed in 1998, killing 12 airmen. CNN reported investigators blamed the tragedy on pilot error, but also discovered the squadron was overworked and harried from frequent overseas deployments. "We found that this unit was very stressed out," an investigator told CNN. "We found that this unit was deploying all the time. We found this unit did not have adequate time to do proper training."

Said Heritage's Mr. Spencer "You're going to have situations where people are not as prepared as they should be. Whenever you're dealing with weapons of warfare, the outcome can be deadly."

The accident on Oahu occurred at night as the 25th Infantry Division, nicknamed "Tropical Lightning," was conducting an air assault exercise in which the Black Hawks picked up soldiers at one spot and deposited them at another.

A division spokesman said he did not know the aviation brigade's flying-hour history. That subject, he said, would be part of the crash investigation. A Pentagon spokesman said there had been no cutbacks in the 25th Infantry's flying hours.

Six soldiers were killed in the accident and 11 were injured.

In 1996, two Black Hawks collided at Fort Campbell, Ky., killing six soldiers. The Army blamed the collision on poor air-crew coordination.

Three years later, a Black Hawk crashed at the same base, killing seven.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been prodding Mr. Bush to submit an emergency supplemental funding measure this year to pay readiness bills now. He said he spoke to the president privately yesterday and concluded "I'm confident that message is getting through."

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