Investigators in the Pentagon bribery probe are looking closely at how the Navy awarded contracts for its Aegis ship-defense system - the type used by the USS Vincennes to shoot down an Iranian passenger jet.

Pentagon officials now find themselves defending the system's capabilities, in addition to facing questions about the role of private consultants in determining which defense contractors won the multibillion-dollar Aegis production contracts.The Vincennes relied on its Aegis nerve system to track and destroy an incoming aircraft Sunday during hostilities with Iran. The aircraft, mistaken for an Iranian F-14 attack plane, turned out to be an Iranian jetliner with 290 people aboard.

Aegis, named for the shield of the Greek god Zeus, combines computes, radar and weapons in a protective net around Navy ships like the Vincennes.

Reps. Jim Florio, D-N.J., and H. James Saxton, R-N.J., have called on the Defense Department to determine whether the Aegis contracts are tainted by disclosures in the ongoing Pentagon purchasing investigation.

A chief target of the bribery probe is Melvyn Paisley, a former assistant Navy secretary who oversaw division of the Aegis work. Paisley left the Navy in 1987 to become a consultant to, among others, a company that got Aegis work.

Aegis systems had been built for 15 years at RCA's Moorestown, N.J., division when, in 1985, the Navy sought production changes despite the system's then-stellar reputation.

Unisys Corp. of Detroit eventually was awarded a contract to begin work on a key radar com-ponent.