COLORADO SPRINGS: Well, until a few hours ago most reporters and their Air Force sources thought Gen. John Hyten was a virtual lock for nomination as Air Force Chief Staff.
Now, my best source on this stuff says the current vice chief, Gen. David Goldfein, is the likely successor to Gen. Mark Welsh. If selected and approved, Goldfein would be the first CSAF to have flown a drone: He was a Reaper pilot. Hyten, the source says, should be heading to lead Strategic Command. (Kudos to my colleague John Tirpak at Air Force Magazine for breaking this story.)
My source noted both men are “top notch,” adding: “However, we are fighting in the air, and the Air Force needs a chief who on the basis of his experience can offer the President air warfare alternatives, as well as fight in the Tank (where the Joint Chiefs and their chairman meet for highly classified discussions) with the Army and Marine four-stars with 10 combat tours over what those military options ought to be. John will be just as, if not more, influential on the role of space in the military at STRATCOM as he would be as CSAF, so this alignment is win-win for all.”
On paper, Hyten is the logical choice to lead STRATCOM. He’s probably America’s preeminent space warrior. He knows the budget, the technology and the warfighting inside and out from his time as head of Air Force Space Command. And StratCom is the combatant command for space, through its Joint Functional Component Command (JFCC) for Space. At a time when fighting in space has become a dominant theme of US military policy and spending, Hyten brings a powerful strategic intellect and a proven ability to win money for space and to manage the enterprise well.
Goldfein is a much more traditional choice for Air Force Chief of Staff than Hyten, who never flew a fighter or a bomber, would have been. Goldfein has one important set of connections that Hyten lacks. He was director of the Joint Staff for two years until August last year. That means he knows the current top leadership of the Pentagon and the other three services well, having interacted with them daily. And, as our source notes, Goldfein is a pilot’s pilot, boasting more than 4,200 flying hours in trainers, the F-16, F-117A, the MQ-9 Reaper drone and the MC-12 Liberty. He’s flown and fought in operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Allied Force and Enduring Freedom. The fact he’s flown the MQ-9 is of particular interest, a potent symbol to a force increasingly desperate to train pilots and to retain them.
Still, I can’t help but think that the Air Force — and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon — would be missing an enormous opportunity to send a larger signal to the service and to our global competitors by appointing Hyten as CSAF. No one would ever doubt how important space is to the Air Force (which often embraces space with one hand) and to the nation’s leadership if a space warrior were picked. But Hyten has never engaged in air combat. And that is the primary role of the Air Force. Perhaps it’s time again to dust off Space Command?