U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Mark Logico, Associated Press
In this Jan. 19, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert speaks to sailors during a visit to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Greenert told more than 500 sailors that Hawaii is a strategic place that serves as the gateway to the Asia-Pacific.

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — The head of the Navy told sailors Thursday that the Asia-Pacific will be the service's focus in the future, and he views Hawaii as the gateway to the region.

"Let me give it to you straight, right here. The focus of this department in the future is the Asia-Pacific region, where you are," Adm. Jonathan Greenert told more than 500 sailors during a visit to Pearl Harbor, one of the Navy's largest bases. "I look at Hawaii and I say it's the gateway — it's the most strategic base — out into the Asia-Pacific."

Greenert attributed the shift to an evolving world, the U.S. drawdown from operations in the Middle East, and a declining defense budget.

His remarks come after the Obama administration earlier this month unveiled a new defense strategy seeking to enhance the U.S. presence in Asia because of the region's economic importance and China's rise as a military power.

The strategy focuses on the Asia-Pacific region but aims to retain American military pre-eminence worldwide, even as budgets are cut to reduce the nation's deficit.

Greenert explained to reporters afterward that the Navy would channel future investments to meet the needs of the Pacific Command first.

He said ships and aircraft deployments in the Pacific would remain at current levels or be increased. The same goes for efforts involving unmanned equipment, cyber security and electronic warfare, he said.

"It's the culmination of all of our capabilities to get the complete picture," Greenert said.

He declined to say whether the Navy's other geographic regions might face cuts, noting budgets haven't been finished yet.

Greenert is visiting the islands to attend a Friday ceremony for a change of command at the Pacific Fleet. He has been stationed in Hawaii several times in the past. In the early 1990s, he commanded the USS Honolulu nuclear-powered submarine based at Pearl Harbor.