President Joe Biden has nominated Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton to become the next commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Air Force Times has learned.
If approved by the Senate, the career missileer and space officer would earn a promotion to four-star general, according to Global Strike. He would also become the first Black man to lead the organization in charge of the service’s nuclear enterprise, and the only Black person currently running an Air Force major command.
Cotton has served as the No. 2 officer at Global Strike since October 2019, headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. He joined the service through the Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1986 and has recently worked as head of Air University, commander of 20th Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile enterprise, deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office and boss of the former 45th Space Wing and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
He is next in line to replace Gen. Timothy Ray, a bomber pilot who took over the top spot in August 2018. The four-star will retire this summer after four decades in uniform.
“His retirement ceremony will be 1 July, but depending on how long the confirmation process takes for Lt. Gen. Cotton, he may be in the office prior to the change of command,” Global Strike spokesperson Carla Pampe said.
Senators first noted Ray’s pending retirement at a Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing in May.
“I tried [retiring] after 40 years of coaching and, after about a year, my wife said, ‘You either get a job or we’re gonna get a divorce,’” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, told Ray at a hearing in May. “So get ready for that.”
Cotton is poised to take over amid significant change in the Air Force’s aging nuclear inventory. The service is buying its first new land-based and air-launched nuclear missiles in decades, refurbishing the B61 bomb, retiring the B-1B Lancer bomber fleet while looking to do the same for the B-2 Spirit bombers, preparing to keep the B-52 Stratofortress bombers flying for 100 years, and trying to overhaul the systems that allow top American officials to command those weapons and planes, among other initiatives.
USAF is also starting to build a new, multibillion-dollar B-21 Raider stealth bomber that is slated to fly for the first time next year. A new missile field security helicopter, the MH-139 Grey Wolf, is about to replace the Vietnam War-era Hueys as well.
Air Force Global Strike Command spans more than 33,700 employees across 11 active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve wings around the world.
Cotton would also lead the command at a time of introspection about racial equity in America and the military. He spoke last summer on his experience as a Black Air Force officer, noting the importance of finding new ways to reach out to airmen of different backgrounds to ensure they are properly included and mentored.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll get after this … not necessarily only from a Department of the Air Force perspective,” he said. “It’s time for our nation to really dive into this and get after it once and for all.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.