By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday that he was working to see if there was a link between a spate of recent military accidents and budget caps, but said he could not draw a direct line at this time.
Since June, more than 70 U.S. service members have either been killed or injured in training or non-combat accidents, ranging from two naval collisions in Asia to a Marine Corps transport place crash in rural Mississippi.
"I am not willing to say right now that there is a direct line between sequestration and what has happened. I am willing to say ... we are going to take a very close look at that," Mattis told reporters.
Mattis said that he was looking at a number of broader issues to try and explain the large number of accidents, including whether there were cultural issues in the military.
"We are almost hardwired to say "can do," that is just the way we are brought up," Mattis said. "But there comes a point in peacetime where you have to make certain you are not always saying we're going to do more with less," he added.
Mattis said he was not concerned that military leaders felt pressured to say their troops were trained and ready, even if they were not.
The issue of U.S. military accidents was highlighted by a series of recent naval collisions.
A pre-dawn collision between guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia on Aug. 21 killed 10 sailors and was the fourth major incident in the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year.
In June, another destroyer, the Fitzgerald, collided with a Philippine cargo ship, killing seven U.S. sailors.
The secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, where they are expected to face tough questions from lawmakers on the collisions and whether enough was done to avoid them.
In a Sunday interview on CBS' “Face the Nation" Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said recent military accidents were because of budget caps.
"It's because of a thing called sequestration, and our failure over the last eight years to make sure our military is prepared, equipped, trained," McCain said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart)