WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain said he has serious concerns about the current and planned U.S. military presence in the Pacific and said operations in Iraq and Afghanistan “may be mortgaging our future.”

The comments came as Adm. William J. Fallon, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command and Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, Commander of United States Forces Korea, testified before Congress on Tuesday to discuss their operational plans related to the 2006 defense budget.

McCain called the Middle East operations “legitimate demands” but said he worries that not enough attention is being paid to the military’s ability to react to China and North Korea, the next “challenges” the U.S. military will face.

The Arizona Republican criticized the military for not yet determining if Japan will allow a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to replace the USS Kitty Hawk when it is decommissioned in 2008, and he said the total number of ships in the region has dropped too quickly in the last several years.

“I think most of us who appreciate history recognize the importance of sea power not only in conflicts but for presence,” McCain said.

“Every president, Republican or Democrat, his first call is for a carrier task force to go wherever there is a crisis. I don’t mean to denigrate the role of the Army or Marines or Air Force or anyone else.

“Traditionally we’ve had to rely, particularly in the Pacific, on naval presence,” McCain said.

“I’m specifically concerned about the drawdown in this area of the world. This is a situation perhaps we’re not preparing for adequately.”

Fallon, who assumed command of PACOM less than two weeks ago, said force posture and response will be a top priority for him.

He said even with the planned reductions, today’s naval forces have greater efficiency than ever before and will be able to perform their duties.

That drew a rebuke from McCain.

“I appreciate that increased capability, but if they’re in San Diego it’s difficult to use it,” he told Fallon.

Fallon said the carrier issue will be a major part of the posture discussions but did not comment on Defense Department plans to retire the fleet’s other non-nuclear carrier, the USS Kennedy, because of budget concerns.

He did promise to take up the carrier issue with the Japanese government “very soon.”

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed McCain’s comments to focus on the future of the Pacific forces but said he expects this year’s Base Relocation and Closure study and Quadrennial Defense Review will shape those decisions.

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