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SAN DIEGO — The Navy's top officer said he's "pleased" with the service's shipbuilding plan, which includes additional submarines, electronic warfare aircraft, joint high-speed vessels and a large-deck amphibious ship for the Marines.
The Quadrennial Defense Review released Monday by the Pentagon calls for an amphibious fleet sized at 29 to 33 ships. Navy officials are holding the line on what they see as the naval requirement of 33, but Marine Corps officials have pressed for additional ships, as many as 38.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said he has regularly discussed the issue with Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway but maintains that the current fleet levels would still meet the Corps' needs.
"I don't dispute the Marine Corps' right of saying 38," Roughead said, speaking with reporters after his address Thursday at "West 2010," a four-day conference sponsored by U.S. Naval Institute and Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. "It's all about priorities. We believe we can structure the force with what the Marine Corps needs with 33."
Roughead, who addressed the conference at a luncheon on a short trip to California, said that additional ships such as existing big-deck amphibious ships and new joint high-speed vessels will play a role as well in supporting Marines.
"What is the requirement you have?" he asked rhetorically. "We see great value in amphibious ships." Two amphibious ready groups were ordered to assist with the humanitarian relief mission in Haiti after the devastating earthquake last month, he noted.
"You can do so much with them," he said, adding that "there is a need that you have for forcible entry."
Roughead also addressed other issues, including:
• Naval fire support. The Navy is moving ahead with an analysis into alternatives to provide better protection of landing forces ashore, an ongoing concern among Marines. "It is important for the Marine Corps, it is important for the Navy," he said. The analysis will explore better precision and higher volume of fire, and it will include littoral fire support. "We need to be able to get in with precision and on complex targets" and reach from the sea, he told the audience.
• Cyber warriors. The newest Cyber Warfare command and 10th Fleet will pull some talent from around the Navy as well as draw in new skilled officers and enlisted sailors. "It's going to be a competitive field," Roughead said. The Navy will select people for two new designators, five officers for cyber warfare engineers and 12 cyber warrant officers.
• Unmanned at sea. Officials are elated with the recent deployment of the vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle, better known as Fire Scout, aboard a ship supporting counter-drug operations. "We're going to get these systems into where the action is," Roughead said.
• More power. The Navy continues to expand its future fleet and inventory of unmanned systems that will be used for undersea and surface operations, but one big problem remains: insufficient power. Roughead said the capability is hampered "if after 24 hours it has to come home." He implored the crowd heavily represented by communications and electronics companies: "We need power, and we need power quickly."