The news, announced Tuesday by the Pentagon, comes amid speculation about whether Shanahan will be the long-term solution as President Donald Trump seeks a replacement for former secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned late in December.
Chewning, 41, has held the industrial base job since Oct. 2017, serving as the department’s point person on how to guide and grow the defense industry. He was a major player in the Trump administration’s wide-ranging look at the health of the defense sector and has become a regular fixture in the DC think-tank circuit.
According to the Pentagon release, Chewning left an investment banker job at Morgan Stanley following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to enlist in the Army; he later was commissioned as an Army intelligence officer. Afterwards, he returned to the private sector, and before joining DoD was a partner at McKinsey.
On paper, Chewning would fit in well with Shanahan. Both men have spent significant time in the private sector, and both are hawks on China. (A defense official told reporters that in Shanahan’s first meeting since taking over as secretary, he told top staff to remain focused on “China, China, China.”)
Chewning leaves a job with strong security for the role with Shanahan, in a job that may come with a clock attached. While a number of names have surfaced in the last week as potential replacements for Mattis, including former senators Jim Webb and Jon Kyl, the move may be seen as a sign that Shanahan is a leading candidate for the full-time job; it is also possible that Chewning could remain as Shanahan’s chief of staff if Shanahan returns to the deputy secretary role in the future.
Chewning replaces Kevin Sweeney, a retired admiral who was part of Mattis' inner circle, in the chief of staff role. Sweeney’s departure was announced over the weekend by the Pentagon.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.