Top Senate Republican demands more Navy dollars in wake of Iran attack

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Overnight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council Senators question Afghanistan commander nominee on turning around 17-year war MORE (R-Miss.) said the Pentagon's disclosure Thursday of an Iranian attack on a U.S. drone earlier this month is proof positive that Tehran's growing threat to American interests in the Middle East is "real and not hypothetical." 

“A strong maritime presence is critical to America’s ability to project power in the region," Wicker said in a statement issued Friday, noting the Iranian attack "clearly illustrates" the need to increase that presence in the Gulf. 

On Nov. 1, two Iranian fighter jets opened fire on an American surveillance drone during an intelligence-gathering operation in international airspace 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coastline, DOD press secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. 

The MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft was conducting a classified aerial surveillance mission in the region when two Iranian-flagged Su-25 Sukhoi fighters opened fire, according to Little. 

The Iranian jets fired twice on the U.S. drone, missing the aircraft both times, before the unmanned aircraft began its flight back to base. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama were immediately informed of the attack. Thursday's press conference was the first time DOD publicly disclosed details of the strike. 

While the attack made clear the need for more maritime military power in the Gulf, looming defense budget cuts facing the Pentagon will make meeting that challenge extremely difficult, according to Wicker. 

Under the $500 billion across-the-board reductions to defense spending outlined in the White House's sequestration plan, the Navy's share of those cuts will all but guarantee the smallest Navy since World War I, the Mississippi Republican said on Friday. 

The cuts, included in last year's debt-ceiling deal, were triggered after a congressional supercommittee failed to trim $1.2 billion from the federal deficit. 

With the department's strategic shift to the Pacific, the Navy simply will not have enough assets to patrol the strategic waters in the Gulf, should the cuts go into place in January. 

The Navy currently has a 284-ship fleet. The Navy in March proposed a 10-year plan that would reduce the fleet to roughly 300 with the retirement of some older ships. 

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had proposed a plan to boost that number to 350 ships. Romney was defeated by President Obama during Tuesday's election. 

The Obama administration argues that even with a smaller fleet, technological advancements made in the Navy's newest vessels will offset that anticipated drop in the total size of the fleet.