Panetta visited the USS Peleliu Friday, traveling by hovercraft from Camp Pendleton, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
"The Peleliu and what you do is what we need for the future. This is about agility, this is about being able to move quickly. This is about being flexible. It's about doing the things that you do right here from this ship," Panetta told the crew of 300 Marines and 1,100 sailors.
The 32-year-old Pendleton LHA-5, the last of the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships in service, recently returned to service after a $16 million renovation and upgrade. The vessel was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014, but that has been pushed back at least a year because of delays with its replacement, the LHA-8 amphibious assault vessels.