Smart Bombs Made Dumb?

Merv Griffin is pictured during the taping of his final show, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Aug. 20, 1986. Griffin, who went from big-band era crooner to fabulously successful TV talk show host before making a fortune as the creator of two of television's most popular game shows and then parlaying that into a billion-dollar hotel empire, died Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007. He was 82. AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

In Afghanistan, American aircraft have dropped more so-called smart bombs than in any other war, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

But dozens of these missiles and guided bombs have missed their target, some hitting civilians, allied troops, even our own soldiers.

Sometimes faulty coordinates or bad weather are to blame, but in other cases the weapons' guidance systems fail, as happened twice one October weekend.

"Preliminary indications are that the weapons guidance system malfunctioned," said Victoria Clarke, assistant Secretary of Defense.

A 1,000-pound smart bomb went off target and hit a senior citizens' center near Herat. In Kabul, 500-pound guided bombs went astray and slammed into a residential area, reportedly killing 25 civilians.

"People's lives depend on those weapons working and chances are, they're not going to work," said Rick Peoples.

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Peoples used to work at Eagle-Picher Technologies in Joplin, Mo. The plant makes sophisticated batteries that power the guidance systems inside virtually all of America's precision guided weapons.

"It's very possible that these failures, and it's very likely these failures are happening because of the batteries," Peoples said.

Due to production and testing problems at the plant, Peoples said, some were duds. Others exploded. Many developed cracks and should have been discarded, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But employees tell us after-hours - with government inspectors gone - that they were ordered to seal the cracks with an unapproved material called loctite.

"And Eagle Picher did this not on hundreds, not on thousands, but on millions of batteries that they sold," Peoples said.

The airtight batteries are supposed to survive inside stored missiles for years, but loctite can degrade, letting air in and rendering the batteries useless.

Eagle-Picher officials declined our requests for an on-camera interview, but the company said there is no evidence to support the allegations, and that their batteries work just as they should.

Former chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Ronald Fogleman, said this potential problem needs to be checked out.

"Any end-to-end investigation I think will require them to go back and look at the internal components of the guidance system to make sure there is no history of failure," Fogelman said.

Peoples, a former Marine, has filed a whistle-blower suit against Eagle-Picher.

The alleged cover-up, Peoples said, "has jeopardized our national defense to the point where it is criminal fraud and someone should pay."


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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