Two finalists emerge for next Space Force chief: Sources

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Air Force Space Command Gen. Jay Raymond (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: Pentagon leadership has narrowed potential candidates to become the Space Force’s next head of space operations to two names, with the decision now in the hands of the White House, multiple sources told Breaking Defense.

The choice of the two candidates – Lt. Gen. John Shaw and Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting – would become the second chief of the Space Force, following the planned retirement of the chief of space operations, Gen. Jay Raymond in the fall. While the White House may still consider adding a third name to the finalists, sources expect Shaw or Whiting to become the next senior Space Force officer.

White House requests for comment were not returned. Spokespersons for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Space Force declined to comment.

Shaw, who holds a master’s degree in astronautics, is currently deputy commander of SPACECOM. He is widely seen as forward-looking on issues relating to the military’s role in space. For example, he co-authored an article, “Sailing the New Wine-Dark Sea: Space as a Military Area of ​​Responsibility” [PDF] in the magazine “ÆTHER” of the Air University which exposed a new strategic vision of space.

Whiting, the Space Force’s Space Operations Command chief, comes from a more management-oriented background. A handful of knowledgeable sources inside and outside the Pentagon have described Whiting as known for his cautious approach and behind-the-scenes bureaucratic skills.

Both men attended the Air Force Academy as undergraduates – Shaw with a BS in astronautical engineering and a minor in Russian, Whiting with a BS in aeronautical engineering.

Having just celebrated his 60th birthday, Raymond has overseen the sometimes tumultuous overhaul of how the US military thinks and intends to operate in space – all the while navigating a sharp-eyed Congress, an army of wary air and a somewhat resilient navy and army.

Raymond, who was named the founding chief of Space Force in December 2019 and who also wore the commander’s hat at Space Command for a year, is said by multiple sources to be retiring this fall, most likely at the end of September. While its maximum term could stretch to 2023, senior officers retiring after three years are far from unheard of, especially given the stress of creating a new military branch.

One factor to consider is that Raymond’s path to a senior position — that is, one of the leadership roles within the Joint Chiefs — is largely blocked. Adm. Christopher Grady was elevated to Vice President of JCS on December 20, 2021, and so that role is closed to Raymond. And while in theory the presidency could open when Army Gen. Mark Milley retires in 2023, the defense community expects the current Air Force chief , CQ Brown, to be next in line for that seat.

Indeed, the position usually rotates between the services, but former Air Force chief David Goldfein was passed over by President Donald Trump in favor of Milley – upsetting the normal rotational flow and meaning the turn from the Air Force to the joint helm went well. due.