WASHINGTON (Jul. 29)
Pentagon sources said today that the United States naval force in the Mediterranean continues to have a “significant edge” over the Soviet fleet in those waters although it consists of fewer ships. The Pentagon assessment was made in response to a claim by Raymond V. B. Blackman, editor of the authoritative Jane’s Fighting Ships, that U.S. naval strength is in a serious decline while Soviet sea power was expanding into a “super navy.” Blackman said in a foreword to the 1971-72 issue of Jane’s, published in London, that “so prolific has the Soviet naval shipbuilding of fort been that the USSR is now able to maintain a standing naval force in the Mediterranean five times stronger than five years ago to counter the American Sixth Fleet.”
The Pentagon spokesman, questioned by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said the two aircraft carriers the U.S. maintains in the Mediterranean and the fleet of ballistic submarines equipped with intercontinental missiles gave the U.S. an advantage in long-range strike feasibility. According to the Pentagon, the U.S. has approximately 40 ships in the Sixth Fleet while the Soviets have about 50 in the Mediterranean and possibly more than 60, not including Soviet vessels in Egyptian ports flying the Egyptian flag. The source said the Russians had two aircraft carriers based in the Black Sea. He said both U.S. and Soviet naval vessels would use the Suez Canal if it was reopened.