The Navy's top nuke is likely its next top officer.

Senior Navy officials expect that Adm. John Richardson will be named Adm. Jon Greenert's successor as chief of naval operations, barring a last-minute shift from the White House, according to sources with knowledge of the deliberations.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to make the announcement Wednesday, according to a report from the Associated Press, along with his recommendation for Army chief of staff.

Richardson, current head of Naval Reactors, would be a historic pick that would mark the first time a Director of Naval Reactors has been tapped to lead the Navy.

The eight-year NR billet is unlike any other in the military. Its longevity is designed to ensure continuity and exacting oversight of the nuclear reactors that power submarines and aircraft carriers and the sailors who operate them.

But four sources with ties to senior leaders said that Greenert has been supportive of Richardson for CNO.

Richardson would bring firepower to the looming battle over funding for the next class of ballistic missile submarines, which at $4.9 billion apiece will break the Navy's shipbuilding account if they aren't partially funded elsewhere.

"Jon Greenert's priorities are Ohio replacement, two Virginia[-class submarine]s a year and maintaining undersea dominance," said a retired three-star, who like others asked for anonymity to discuss internal personnel deliberations. "He sees Richardson as the right man for those priorities."

Several four-stars are still contenders. Adms. Michelle Howard, vice chief of naval operation, Mark Ferguson, head of Naval Forces Europe, Bill Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, and Cecil Haney, head of U.S. Strategic Command, are all still possibilities.

But sources say that for the past several weeks, Richardson has been the primary candidate to be the Navy's next CNO.

Super-star four star

Richardson has been a star for his entire career. He's a 1982 Naval Academy grad, the same class as fellow contender Howard. He also holds three master's degrees, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National War College, according to his biography.

Like Greenert and former CNO Adm. Mike Mullen, Richardson is a recipient of the fleet's most prestigious leadership award. Richardson earned the Stockdale Award for his tour as skipper of the attack submarine Honolulu in Pearl Harbor.

He also has experience on the Joint Staff and has served as a naval aide to the president. He started his job at Naval Reactors in 2012, a post he is slated to hold until 2020. Two sources in the submarine community said the idea of Richardson becoming CNO has caused some heartburn in the Naval Reactors world. People there believe the NR director — a job founded by the legendary Adm. Hyman Rickover — shouldn't be a temporary assignment for rising four stars.

Observers . Sheila McNeill, former president of the Navy League and a long-time Navy advocate in Kings Bay, Georgia, said Richardson would make an excellent CNO.

"He has a real ability to connect with both members of Congress and sailors on the deck plates," she said in an April 9 phone interview.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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