US Navy beefs up Persian Gulf fleet

The U.S. Navy isn't looking for a fight with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, but it will be more than ready if there is one, the service's top officer told reporters Friday morning.

Service officials are planning to double the number of Navy mine-hunting ships patrolling the key waterway, which is the only entry point for military and commercial vessels heading for the Persian Gulf, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told reporters at a Friday breakfast in Washington. In the past, the Iranian navy has peppered its coastal waters with sea-based mines, as a way to protect its shores from attack.

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Along with increasing the number of mine-hunters in the region, Navy leaders are planning to outfit a fleet of destroyers and cruisers in the region with powerful Gatling guns, according to news reports. The weapons are ideal for taking out the small, fast-moving patrol boats the Iranian navy commonly uses to patrol the strait.

Pentagon strategists have long assumed that Iran would use these small boats to swarm U.S. Navy warships if tensions between Tehran and Washington were to boil over. To take on that kind of attack, the U.S. Navy needs a weapon less like "a high-powered ... rifle" and more like "a sawed-off shotgun," Greenert explained. The Gatling guns going aboard U.S. ships would be that kind of weapon, he added.

News of the Navy's buildup in the strait comes as talk of military action against Iran reaches a fever pitch in Washington.

In January, Tehran set off a potentially dangerous game of one-upmanship with the United States and its allies when it threatened to take control of the strait. Iran eventually backed off its claims to the waterway, but warned the Pentagon not to send Navy carriers back to the Persian Gulf. it was a warning the Pentagon declined to heed, as it sent two carriers through the strait weeks later without incident.

The incident did, however, prompt Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to tell House appropriators in February that Iran is one of a stable of rogue nations "that could explode on us," especially if the country acquires a nuclear weapon. Iran continues to thumb its nose at efforts by the international community to determine whether Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. Iran has maintained its nuclear program is focused on energy development.

But nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have been repeatedly denied access to several nuclear sites in the country. The United States has sought, in vain, to pressure Iran to open its program to inspections via numerous diplomatic and economic sanctions.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last week that an Israeli-led airstrike against nuclear sites in Iran was "very likely." In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last Tuesday, President Obama said the United States will use all options at its disposal to prevent a nuclear Iran.

“When he says that all options are on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran, he means it,” Levin said at the time. “I believe him. The world will believe him. I hope the Iranians are rational enough to believe him, because Iran ignores the president of the United States and his words at their peril."