Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that a the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region wouldn't be measured in terms of battalions.
"That's the future," he said. "Not necessarily the United States of America sitting there with half of the United States Navy positioned in the gulf, but rather ... a long-term strategy that's feasible given the resources available."
He noted the U.S. military strategy in the region was designed to contain Iraq under Saddam Hussein. With the Iraq war over, and the engagement in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. Defense Department has refocused its efforts on the Asia-Pacific.
Dempsey said the Defense Department would bolster its presence with regional allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Policy analysts have described the so-called pivot to Asia as ill-guided given the emergence of al-Qaida affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa. Dempsey said the military would work to do more with less in the region.
"We just have to figure out, 'How do we help you do more, so we can do less?'" he said. "But that doesn't mean less well."