REPORTING FROM SAN DIEGO -- The U.S. Navy is upgrading its defensive and offensive capabilities in the Persian Gulf to counter threats from Iran to seize the Strait of Hormuz and block the flow of oil, the chief of naval operations said Friday.
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert told reporters in Washington that the Navy will add four more mine-sweeping ships and four more CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters with mine-detection capability. The Navy is also sending more underwater unmanned mine-neutralization units to the region.
Greenert said he plans to assign more patrol craft to the gulf, possibly armed with Mark 38 Gatling guns. The same kind of guns might be placed on ships that provide protection for U.S. aircraft carriers or perhaps on the carriers themselves.
U.S. ships have excellent long-range defenses but could use weapons for closer combat, Greenert said.
"It’s like being in an alley with a rifle and maybe what you need is a sawed-off shotgun," he said.
The Iranians have boasted that they could "swarm" large U.S. ships with their smaller, fast-moving craft. They have also reportedly been laying mines along their coastline.
The narrow Strait of Hormuz is a key transit way for oil tankers. Any closure of the strait could send oil prices skyrocketing, officials say.
In January, the chief of the Iranian army warned the U.S. not to send another ship to the Persian Gulf after the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis departed. Another carrier, the Abraham Lincoln, entered the gulf weeks later without incident.
Greenert told reporters at the Defense Writers Group that he was aboard the John C. Stennis as it left the gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.
"I got a good look at the situation," he said. "A lot of the Iranian navy was out there … not really threatening, but being vigilant, and I thought through that."
The U.S. needs sufficient capability "to set the theater" in the gulf, Greenert said.
The Navy’s 5th Fleet is headquartered in the Persian Gulf island-nation of Bahrain.
Photo: An F/A-18 prepared launch off the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Credit: U.S. Navy