ABOARD THE USS ENTERPRISE (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. is committed to maintaining a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers despite budget pressures, in part to project sea power against Iran the Middle East.
Panetta also has told about 1,700 sailors on the USS Enterprise that the ship is heading to the Persian Gulf region and will steam through the Strait of Hormuz in a direct message to Iran.
Tehran has threatened to block the Strait, a major transit point for global oil supplies, and warned the U.S. not to send carriers into the Gulf. The U.S. has said it would continue to deploy ships there.
"That's what this carrier is all about," Panetta said Saturday.
Panetta's commitment to 11 U.S. carriers came despite budget pressures to reduce the size of the fleet.