This post has been updated with additional information.
THE PENTAGON — The head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command has been tapped to lead U.S. Pacific Command, according to an announcement from Secretary of Defense James Mattis Tuesday evening.
Adm. Phil Davidson will now succeed outgoing PACOM commander Adm. Harry Harris, who is set to be the Trump administration’s ambassador to Australia.
Mattis also announced that the head of the Air Force in the Pacific, Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, was nominated to lead U.S. Northern Command.
Davidson is a career surface warfare officer who has led the service’s naval force generator since late 2014. In that capacity, Davidson oversaw the Navy’s review of two fatal collisions in the Western Pacific that killed 17 sailors in 2017.
Davidson became the leading Navy candidate to oversee the largest U.S. geographic combatant command after outgoing U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift abruptly announced his intent to retire in September on social media.
Swift was widely thought to be the natural successor for Harris, who also led U.S. Pacific Fleet before taking over PACOM, but was removed from consideration for the position by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in the aftermath of the collisions of USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), several defense officials familiar with a brief phone call between Swift and Richardson have told USNI News.
With Swift out of contention for the position, many looked to O’Shaughnessy as the most viable chance for an Air Force officer to lead PACOM for the first time in its more than 70-year history.
While Davidson has spent time in the Pacific earlier in his career while attached to the Pacific Fleet staff, his flag tours have been in East Coast and European assignments.
In contrast, O’Shaughnessy has spent the majority of his career as a senior officer in the Pacific, commanding units in Hawaii, Japan and Korea and on staff at PACOM.
Still, Pentagon leadership expressed concern that an Air Force officer nominated to lead PACOM would not be able to clear a Senate Armed Services Committee led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). whose father served as PACOM commander from 1968 to 1972. The George W. Bush administration attempted to nominate then-Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Gregory “Speedy” Martin in 2004, but Martin withdrew his nomination hours after facing a battery of heated questions from McCain during his nomination hearing. Worries over McCain disapproving again of an Air Force officer leading PACOM played into the White House’s and Pentagon’s decision to nominate Davidson, several defense officials have told USNI News.
In addition to leading Fleet Forces Command, as a flag officer Davidson served as the senior military advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) at the State Department, the deputy director for Strategy and Policy in the Joint Staff/J-5 in Washington, D.C., and the director of maritime operations at Fleet Forces in Norfolk, Va. Following his time at Fleet Forces, Davidson commanded the U.S. 6th Fleet, which has responsibility for Europe and Africa.
At sea he has commanded guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and frigate USS Taylor (FFG-50) and Carrier Strike Group 8 for the 2010 deployment of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Middle East.
He is a class of 1982 Naval Academy graduate.
Current U.S. 6th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Chris Grady was nominated last month to lead Fleet Forces as Davidson’s replacement.
The following is the announcement from The Pentagon.
Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson for reappointment to the rank of admiral, and assignment as commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Honolulu, Hawaii. Davidson is currently serving as commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Norfolk, Virginia.
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy for appointment to the rank of general, and assignment as commander, U.S. Northern Command; and commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. O’Shaughnessy is currently serving as commander, Pacific Air Forces; air component commander for U.S. Pacific Command; and executive director, Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.