WASHINGTON — Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, currently the head of Pacific Air Forces, has been tapped to lead U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, commonly referred to as NORAD, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.
O’Shaughnessy is set to take over the NORTHCOM job from Gen. Lori Robinson, the highest ranking female military officer in U.S. history and the only woman who has led a major combatant command. Robinson took command of NORTHCOM in 2016 after leading Pacific Air Forces — the same career pathway as her replacement.
However, O’Shaughnessy had at one time been considered a top contender to lead U.S. Pacific Command.
The PACOM post historically has always been filled by a naval officer, but O’Shaughnessy’s vast knowledge of the region and close relationship with current PACOM head Adm. Harry Harris had impressed Defense Department leaders, Defense News reported in October.
In addition, it seemed as though the Navy had a lack of experienced candidates to put forward, as the then-head of U.S. Pacific Fleet Adm. Scott Swift was forced to retire after a string of ship collisions.
But somewhere along the line, U.S. Fleet Forces Command head Adm. Phil Davidson pulled ahead of O’Shaughnessy, with Defense News reporting in February that his nomination was awaiting White House approval. The department announced Tuesday that Davidson will take the PACOM gig.
As head of NORTHCOM, O’Shaughnessy will be responsible for leading the Defense Department’s homeland defense efforts. He will also be dual hatted as the commander of NORAD, a bilateral U.S.-Canadian organization charged with monitoring North American airspaces, detecting aircraft, missile or space threats and responding to attacks on the United States and Canada.
O’Shaughnessy is an Air Force Academy graduate who has flown more than 3,000 hours in the F-16, including 168 combat hours.
He has spent much of his career in the Asia-Pacific and in Europe. Directly before taking the reins of PACAF, he held the position of deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea. From 2013 to 2014, he served as PACOM’s director of operations.
While O’Shaughnessy doesn’t have any direct experience working under NORTHCOM, his knowledge of the Asia-Pacific — especially of the growing nuclear threat posed by North Korea — will likely be beneficial, as responding to nuclear threats to the United States is one of the major responsibilities of the command.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.