Austin recommends Pacific leader as next Navy leader, moving over wife admiral

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has recommended Admiral Samuel Paparo as the Navy’s next chief of naval operations, two administration officials said, calling on an Indo-Pacific-focused operational chief and shifting above Admiral Lisa Franchetti, widely considered the favorite for the position. .

The Pentagon sent Austin’s suggested nomination to the White House days ago, US officials said, but President Joe Biden has yet to make a final decision. The two officials were granted anonymity to discuss internal matters ahead of an announcement.

NBC News was first to report the development. The White House declined to comment. “This is a presidential decision,” Navy spokesman Rear Admiral Ryan Perry said. “The US Navy has several highly qualified senior leaders, and it would be inappropriate to speculate which leader the President will appoint to serve as the next Chief of Naval Operations.”

If nominated and confirmed, Paparo would replace Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, whose four-year term ends this fall. Paparo currently commands the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, where he has focused on confronting China’s growing naval power, a perch that has given him a front-row seat to Washington’s most pressing issue.

“He did a lot of innovative thinking” with new concepts for how to employ American naval power in the Pacific, and instituted a series of experiments and exercises to test new ideas, Bryan Clark said. , a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a retired naval officer.

“He’s been far more creative than the other commanders” who have led the Pacific Fleet in recent years, Clark said, adding that Paparo’s potential appointment “reflects a desire to take seriously” the growing naval imbalance in the Pacific. and how the United States can fix it. he.

Biden was expected to appoint Franchetti to lead the Navy, making her the first woman to serve as a member of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Vice Chief of Naval Operations, she is the Navy’s No. 2 officer.

But the vice chief is rarely elevated to the rank of chief of naval operations. Rather, the job often falls to a combatant commander with new operational experience.

Adm. John Aquilino, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, recently pushed Austin to recommend Paparo to Franchetti because of his experience with the Chinese threat, according to a former senior Defense Department official familiar with the discussions, who was granted anonymity to speak about the sensitive personnel movements.

As service chief, Paparo would not be part of the army’s operational chain of command, but would be responsible for ensuring that naval forces are trained, equipped and combat-ready.

Paparo, a career naval aviator, also commanded in the Middle East and toured Afghanistan’s Nuristan province as commander of a provincial reconstruction team.

His potential appointment comes as more than half of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are up for renewal this year. The White House in recent weeks nominated Air Force Gen. CQ Brown to be the next president; Gen. Eric Smith as head of the Marine Corps; and General Randy George to take over the army. He has yet to appoint a new Air Force chief of staff to replace Brown.

Gilday, the current Navy chief, will hand over leadership of a service that has been heavily criticized by Congress and whose several shipbuilding plans have been wrested from its control by the Pentagon, frustrated by the lack of growth in the fleet.

The Navy hasn’t been able to increase the size of the fleet by 297 ships since it declared a target of 355 ships in 2016, and will in fact shrink for much of the rest of the decade before start climbing in the 2030s, if current plans hold.

It will be a difficult path to follow, however, with the new debt ceiling compromise reached between the White House and Congress capping defense spending for the next two years, just as the Navy has big bills ahead. .

The service has just begun building the first of a new class of ballistic missile submarines, which will carry the bulk of the country’s nuclear strike capability and eat up a sizable chunk of the shipbuilding budget. Paparo should also be wondering what to do with the failure of the Littoral Combat Ship program, a Navy experiment in building small, light ships meant to perform multiple missions.

Despite ordering 38 ships, the Navy has already begun to retire the first batch of LCS hulls, some as young as four years old, a move that has infuriated many in Congress.

Paparo is also expected to lead several new classes of unmanned ships, which the navy has struggled to design and develop under Gilday’s tenure, as well as try to find more shipyards capable of maintaining and repairing warships. and get them out of the fleet faster. , something that Gilday and his predecessors also fought with varying degrees of success.

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