Biden picks history-making Air Force fighter pilot to serve as next Joint Chiefs chairman

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that he is tapping Air Force Gen. CQ Brown Jr., a history-making fighter pilot with deep knowledge of China, to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Brown’s confirmation would mean that, for the first time, both the Pentagon’s top military and civilian positions would be held by African Americans. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black Pentagon chief, has been in the job since the beginning of the administration. The only other Black person to serve as Joint Chiefs chairman was Army Gen. Colin Powell.

The nomination has been long expected. If confirmed by the Senate, Brown would replace Army Gen. Mark Milley, whose term ends in October, as the nation’s next top military officer. The president plans to unveil Brown as his pick during a Rose Garden event Thursday afternoon.

Biden saw Brown as the right person for the job because of his work modernizing the U.S. fleet of aircraft and its nuclear arsenal and his years of experience in shaping U.S. defenses to meet China’s rise, a senior administration official said. He’s also been deeply involved in the Pentagon’s efforts to equip Ukraine with billions of dollars in U.S. weaponry as Kyiv tries to fend off Russia’s 15-month old invasion.

Brown has commanded at every possible level in the Air Force and in joint commands, including in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He also helped build and lead the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State militant group.

Brown is a career F-16 fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours and command experience at all levels. He has broken barriers throughout his career. He served as the military’s first Black Pacific Air Forces commander, where he led the nation’s air strategy to counter China in the Indo-Pacific as Beijing rapidly militarized islands in the South China Sea and tested its bomber reach with flights near Guam.

Three years ago he became the first Black Air Force chief of staff, the service’s top military officer, which also made him the first African American to lead any of the military branches.

For the last year Brown has been widely viewed as the frontrunner to replace Milley, as the Pentagon shifts from preparing for the major land wars of the past to deterring a potential future conflict with Beijing.

That effort could depend heavily upon the military’s ability to rapidly meet China’s rise in cyberwar, space, nuclear weapons and hypersonics, all areas Brown has sharply focused on for the last several years as the Air Force’s top military leader, in order to modernize U.S. airpower for a 21st century fight.

Brown’s confirmation, however, could be delayed. Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville has been blocking military nominations due to his objections over the Pentagon’s policy that provides travel funds and support for troops and dependents to seek a range of reproductive health care, including abortions, if they are based in states where they are now illegal.

The Joint Chiefs chairman is the highest-ranking officer in the country and serves as the senior military adviser to the president, the defense secretary and the National Security Council. The chairman commands no troops and is not formally in the chain of command. But the chairman plays a critical role in all major military issues, from policy decisions to advice on major combat operations, and leads meetings with all the joint chiefs who head the various armed services.

As Air Force chief, Brown has pushed to modernize U.S. nuclear capabilities, including the soon-to-fly next-generation stealth bomber, and led the effort to shed aging warplanes so there’s funding to move forward with a new fleet of unmanned systems. He’s also supported the development of the U.S. Space Force, which received many of its first Guardians and capabilities from the Air Force.