Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, said Saturday that his country's troops were ready for war in the Persian Gulf.

"They are highly professional and incredibly well-prepared," he told reporters at a forward base.He chatted with U.S. Marines and then rode atop a Challenger battle tank named "Churchill" for nine miles across the sand to visit British armored, engineering and infantry units deployed against Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

He met officers and men of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars, a regiment that dates back to 1685 and whose officers have included World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The regiment's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Arthur Denaro, a tall patrician figure in desert camouflage, had met the prince before - on polo fields around the world.

A qualified pilot and parachutist, the prince commanded a Royal Navy minesweeper some years ago.

Later, the 21st Engineer Regiment took Prince Charles by surprise when Capt. Cameron MacNish from Sydney, Australia, sprang out from behind a fence dressed in Bermuda shorts and wide-brimmed hat and persuaded the royal visitor to throw a boomerang.

The prince was spending Saturday night aboard a British frigate.