"The overriding message is our firm commitment to naval presence in the region," Richardson said, before Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cut him off.
"The absence of a carrier doesn't really authenticate a commitment," McCain replied.
"Without that carrier there will be a detriment in our capabilities there," Richardson said.
The gap in presence was first reported by Navy Times in June.
The hearings covered a wide range of topics, including combat integration. Richardson told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., he would work with Navy SEALs to develop a plan that would maintain "mission effectiveness."
"I look forward, if confirmed, to getting very involved with Special Operations Command to make sure we give everyone a fair opportunity," he said.
Gillibrand also pressed Richardson on the Navy's handling of sexual assault cases and retaliation against victims, and told Richardson that the Navy needed to do better at bringing more cases to trial, which Richardson committed to working toward.
"I can't think of anything more toxic to teamwork than an insider threat that preys upon the confidence between team members," he said.
In prepared testimony submitted ahead of the hearing, Richardson offered the members his views on a wide range of topics affecting sailors, from education and training to deployments and technology. Some of the highlights:
"In my experience, the dominant factor that is negatively affecting our Sailors' professional experience in the Navy, and the stress that their families experience, is the frustration associated with things like delays to getting underway, deployment extensions, training delays and gaps, delays in maintenance periods, and last-minute parts availability," Richardson wrote. "These avoidable unpredictabilities are the single biggest detractor to quality of service."
"Central to recruiting and retaining high quality personnel ... is our ability to provide Sailors deployment predictability and the resources necessary to carry out their mission," he wrote.
Accomplishing that means contending with the headache hydra of budget cuts, unforeseen maintenance delays and unceasing demand for warships overseas.
Rising costs: For the past two budget cycles, leaders have struggled to find savings by slowing the growth of health care costs and cost of living subsidies. Richardson said he supported slowing the growth of compensation and health care costs, providing the reforms still met sailors' expectations to be fairly paid.
"If communicated properly and put in the appropriate context by leadership, slowing growth, while still meeting expectations regarding those matters that Sailors and their families value most, should allow the Navy to make appropriate adjustments in a controlled and sustainable manner," he wrote.
"As long as we do not become too restrictive regarding our definition of what 'contributes to a Sailor's professional growth,' I believe that Navy-funded education should both enhance the professional growth of our people and the effectiveness of our Navy," he wrote. "As with other personnel programs this will have to be closely studied and thoroughly communicated in order to achieve the desired positive effect."
Military pay and retirement: Richardson came out in support of retirement reform and reforming the commissary and exchange systems to save money.
"I support proposals to modernize our retirement system so long as our Sailors are given supporting education to make choices to best support their families," he wrote. "My inclination is that the [Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission] recommendation to combine some commissary and exchange functions make sense; I would like to study this more closely."
Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory contributed to this report.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.