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Gates Taps New Air Force Brass

After a weekend with no one in the Air Force high-command pilot’s seats, Defense Secretary Robert Gates Monday announced his recommendations for two new Air Force leaders.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, now in charge of Transportation Command, won out over a number of potential successors to Gen. T. Michael Moseley, who was sacked last week as Air Force chief of staff.

Given recent battles between Gates and the Air Force over the direction of fighter jet investments, the selection of an airlifter with significant experience in roles that cross service lines isn’t a huge surprise. But it’s a departure from the recent tradition of appointing a member of the Air Force’s dominant fighter jet community to the service’s top spot.

“The selection of Gen. Schwartz is almost like going outside of the Air Force,” said Loren Thompson, the chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, calling Schwartz a “consummate professional.”

Gen. John Corley and Gen. Kevin Chilton were often mentioned as replacements for Moseley. But both may have had too much baggage.

Corley leads the Air Force command responsible for fighter jets and bombers and would have been a more traditional choice at a time when Gates has preached bucking convention.

Before Moseley departed, Chilton was often discussed as a potential next-in-command, Thompson said. But Chilton leads the command responsible for nuclear missiles. The findings of the nuclear stewardship study, the reason for Moseley’s ouster, may be a problem for him as well, Thompson said.

Gates also recommended Michael Donley, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management to replace Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, who was also sacked.

Both recommendations must be confirmed by the Senate. But President Bush has not yet made the formal nominations and forwarded them Senate Armed Services Committee, which will conduct the confirmation hearings.

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