WASHINGTON (AFP) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is concerned that recent scandals signal a potential ethical "breakdown" in the US military and has asked commanders to urgently address the problem, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Pentagon chief was "troubled" by revelations of cheating on exams, as well as other incidents, and had raised the issue with the chiefs of all the armed services in talks earlier Wednesday, Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.
"I think he's generally concerned that there could be, at least at some level, a breakdown in ethical behavior and in the demonstration of moral courage," Mr Kirby said.
"And I think he wants to get at that." He spoke a day after the US Navy acknowledged that 30 sailors were implicated in a cheating ring on an exam for nuclear reactor instructors.
And last week, the Air Force said 92 nuclear missile launch officers were tied to a cheating scandal involving a proficiency test at a base in the state of Montana.
The cheating allegations follow a spate of embarrassing incidents in which several generals and admirals were relieved or investigated for personal misconduct over the past year, including cases of heavy drinking, adulterous affairs and illegal gambling.
"This issue has his full attention, and it's fair to say that he's deeply troubled by it," Mr Kirby said.
"He's concerned about the health of the force and the health of the strong culture of accountability and responsibility that Americans have come to expect from their military." Hagel has already asked for a review of how the military academies and colleges instill ethical principles among the troops and has backed efforts to bolster the importance of ethics in the training of senior officers, Kirby said.
But Mr Hagel believes "there must be more urgency behind these efforts" and that military leaders should place a "renewed emphasis on developing moral character," he said.
However, the scale of the potential crisis remained unclear, as well as what measures the Pentagon chief planned to take to tackle the problem.
In examining ethical lapses, the Pentagon will take into account the effect of more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan on the force, Mr Kirby said.
Hagel "believes that this is a factor that should be looked at," the spokesman said.
Top officers have said the wars have severely strained the all-volunteer military, contributing to a rise in mental health problems and post-traumatic stress cases among troops.
In his weekly meeting with the chiefs of the armed forces and their civilian secretaries, Hagel focused on the ethics issue and told them it would remain on the agenda in future meetings, according to Kirby.