The Navy’s second-in-command is set to take over the day-to-day operations of the sea service when Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday retires next month, USNI News has learned.
Adm. Lisa Franchetti will take charge of the service under a stipulation in U.S. law that allows the vice chief of naval operations to perform the duties of the CNO if there’s a vacancy in the role, several service and legislative sources have told USNI News. President Joe Biden has yet to make a nomination for the Navy’s top leader. Even if he had, a hold on Defense Department confirmations would leave the position empty.
Gilday will hit his mandatory retirement date in August, four years after he took charge of the service with no clear successor in place. Like the Marines this week, the Navy plans to hold a relinquishment of command ceremony next month with the responsibilities of the role turning over to Franchetti to act as the leader of the service. For the Navy, this is in part due to a universal hold on confirming military and civilian positions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and the lack of an announced nominee to succeed Gilday.
“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday assumed office Aug. 22, 2019 and is scheduled to complete his four-year term this August. If there is no Senate-confirmed successor, Gilday will relinquish the office to Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti,” top service spokesman Rear Adm. Ryan Perry told USNI News in a Wednesday statement.
Last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin chose U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo as his recommendation to be the next CNO to President Joe Biden, two defense officials told USNI News. Paparo and Franchetti were among the candidates who were under consideration for the Navy’s top job ahead of Austin’s recommendation, service officials confirmed to USNI News.
However, since news broke that Paparo was the pick following a report from NBC, there has been no official nomination or intent to nominate announcement from the White House.
A Wednesday request for comment from USNI News to the National Security Council on the status of the nomination was not immediately returned.
Additionally, there has been no announced successor to follow Gen. CQ Brown as chief of staff of the Air Force. Brown was nominated by the White House to follow Army Gen. Mark Milley as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his nomination hearing was held earlier this week.
Three defense officials familiar with the thinking behind Austin’s recommendation said offering Paparo to be CNO would give the Army a chance to take over leadership of Indo-Pacific Command. In the past, the Pacific Fleet commander has been a natural successor to lead INDO-PACOM, though not always. Under the current thinking, U.S. Special Operations Command commander Gen. Bryan Fenton is seen as the top Army candidate to be the first non-Navy leader of the Pacific command in its almost 80-year history when incumbent Adm. John Aquilino is due to retire next year, two senior defense officials confirmed to USNI News earlier this month.
The Navy and the Senate Armed Services Committee had planned for a July 20 hearing date for the CNO nominee, but defense and legislative sources told USNI News this week holding a hearing before Gilday’s retirement was unlikely due to the time pressure. If no nomination comes forward this week, the SASC may not hold a nomination hearing until September, USNI News understands.
The last major gap in a permanent CNO job was for three months in 1996 when then VCNO Adm. Jay Johnson led the service after the death by suicide of former CNO Adm. Jeremy Borda.
The gap for the CNO role is one of 76 flag officer transitions in the service that are now in limbo due to the Tuberville hold.
The timing for the Navy is awkward with some of the service’s most high-profile leadership jobs set to transition this year. Those include the head of the Navy’s nuclear reactor program, the admiral in charge of maintenance new ship construction, the commanders of the Navy’s surface, aviation and submarine forces and three fleet commanders whose responsibilities include the Atlantic, Western Pacific and the Middle East.
The careful clockwork of cross-continent moves of leaders, staff and their families have been upended as the Navy has crafted a patchwork of service extensions and fill-ins to cover the leadership gaps.
On Friday, Franchetti sent a letter to flag officers and senior captains outlining how the service is handling the stalls in broad strokes.
“We’ve leveraged every available authority to relocate people to meet their needs and the needs of the Navy. We’re also honoring approved retirement requests so our teammates that planned to complete their lifetime of service can move on to the next chapter of their journey,” reads the letter reviewed by USNI News.
“As you and your teammates step up and take on additional responsibilities or move into temporary acting positions, we must all roll up our sleeves, and tighten the circle of trust and support that has seen our Navy through past challenges. Ensure there is 100% clarity in [command and control] and that our high standards are set and maintained.”
The service is trying not to presume the nominees to any of the positions will be confirmed but has taken steps to minimize the churn.
For example, the Navy has moved Rear Adm. Douglas Perry to Norfolk, Va., in a position to be near U.S. 2nd Fleet to allow a quick transition pending confirmation to follow current 2nd Fleet commander Vice Daniel Dwyer.
The Navy assigned Rear Adm. John Menoni, currently on the OPNAV staff, to serve as the acting head of Navy Installations once Command Vice Adm. Yancy Lindsey retires.
U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas and 5th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper will extend in their positions along with Naval Reactors director Adm. Frank Caldwell and commander of Submarine Forces Atlantic Vice Adm. William Houston. Houston was nominated to take charge of NR from Caldwell.
“I recognize that you have choices, and I am grateful that you have chosen to continue to lead our amazing teams, ” Franchetti wrote.
“Your experience, professionalism and warfighting prowess are invaluable – irreplaceable – in this decisive decade.”