WASHINGTON — As Ash Carter nears his widely anticipated confirmation to become the next US defense secretary, the team that he will bring with him to the Pentagon is already taking shape.
Carter is expected to tap current Air Force Undersecretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning as his chief of staff, and US Army Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, head of Army public affairs, to be his senior military adviser, according to a source familiar with internal deliberations.
Fanning has served in his current capacity since April 2013, and is widely regarded as an up and comer in defense circles.
As undersecretary of the Air Force, Fanning primarily oversees work on the service's budget and takes the point position onmatters of space operations, policy and acquisition issues.
Before joining the Air Force's USAF's leadership team, Fanning also served as deputy undersecretary of the Navy and its deputy chief management officer from 2009-2013, where he led the sea service's business transformation and governance processes.
Fanning "has had a terrific tenure in the Air Force," said Rebecca Grant, a former Air Force official and president of IRIS Research. "He's really been able to operate across the full range, including being involved in the difficult budget meetings in the Pentagon" over the past several years, she added.
Grant also noted that the Air Force is facing some weighty issues, such as that like the cominglong-range bomber program, finding ways to pay for the expensive fleet of F-35s that will soon be making their way down assembly lines and into the operational Air Force, and finding ways to increase — or at the very least maintain — the current operational posture of its fleet of ISR and strike drones.
The chief of staff commonly assists the secretary with policy deliberations and coordinating interagency matters, among other tasks.
Lewis took over the Army's public affairs office in June, of last year, fresh off a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan having served as the deputy commanding general (support) for the 101st Airborne Division.
A career Air Cavalry officer, Lewis also served a tour in Iraq and an earlier tour in Afghanistan.
Between deployments, Lewis has spent a lot of time at the Pentagon, much of it at Carter's side, most recently as an adviser on his transition team.
Not counting his role on the transition team, Lewis has already filled the role of military adviser to Carter twice, first as his military assistant when Carter was the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in 2011, and following him to become his senior military assistant when he took over as the deputy secretary of the defense until he deployed back to Afghanistan in early 2012.
Maj. Gen. Lewis also served a has a stint as the military assistant to the chairman of the OSD Defense Business Board. under his belt.
“I mean, these [continuing resolutions] are killing us,” Rep. Mike Rogers told Defense News. “If they do another CR in February to the end of the year, it’s going to basically cost [the Pentagon] $40 billion. It’s going to negate everything we just did in this authorization, plus more. And it’s just literally un-American if we aren’t doing a better job to provide for our military than that.”
Jüri Luik spoke to Defense News twice for this interview: First on Oct. 21, at NATO headquarters in Brussels after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Black Sea region, and then by phone on Nov. 23, as tension between Russia and the West was hitting a new peak.