WASHINGTON — The Marines’ top resources official expressed serious concerns Thursday about the number of Navy ships and the ability of the fleet to rapidly deploy his troops to major combat operations overseas.

Marine Corps Deputy Commandant Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus said his forces need 28 to 30 amphibious assault ships ready for major combat operations. Currently, the Navy has 23 in its fleet.

He said the Navy’s plan to build only four new ships next year — only one of which is an amphibious assault ship — leaves him worried about both services’ futures.

“Quality is important, and we get the quality that we want,” he told members of the House Armed Services Committee. “But the quantity itself is a problem. It’s a problem with having peacetime forward presence. It’s a problem for being able to rapidly surge the right number of ships …. It’s a problem for major combat operations.”

Navy officials said their plans take into consideration both force capabilities and financial responsibility.

“If there were more money, we’d buy more ships,” said John Young Jr., assistant secretary of the Navy. “But we believe we’ve struck the right balance.”

The fleet today consists of about 290 surface ships and submarines. In testimony before Congress last month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark said that number could rise as high as 325 or drop as low as 243 in coming years, depending on budget constraints and technological breakthroughs.

Several representatives voiced concerns over the fleet size and limited shipbuilding schedule for fiscal 2006, for which $8.7 billion is allotted in the proposed defense budget. Over the next five years construction of 49 new ships is planned.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., also objected to Navy plans to decommission one of its aircraft carriers — reducing the fleet from 12 to 11 — saying she worries the fleet could drop even further temporarily if older carriers are retired and their replacements are delayed by budgetary problems.

Magnus said he understands the need to modernize the fleet, and he said the improved efficiency of the replacement ships will allow the Navy to keep a somewhat smaller force with the same capabilities.

“Slipping or cutting the replacements is what concerns me,” he said. “The trend over time goes down …. When you need that capability in the future, it does concern me.”

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