Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has recommended to the president that Adm. Samuel Paparo, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, become the Navy’s 33rd chief of naval operations.

NBC News first reported Monday that Paparo’s name was sent to the White House last week.

Two defense officials with direct knowledge of the process, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter, confirmed the accuracy of the NBC report.

President Joe Biden would still need to formally nominate Paparo and send the pick to Congress for approval.

Monday’s news flew in the face of conventional Beltway wisdom, with some news reports and talking heads predicting that the current vice chief of naval operations, Adm. Lisa Franchetti, would become the next CNO and the first woman to hold the title and to serve on the Joint Chiefs.

Multiple sources said privately that high-ranking Pentagon officials were operating under the assumption Franchetti would be nominated for CNO right up until the NBC story broke. Last week, several current and retired flag officers told Defense News that Franchetti’s selection for the job was among the “worst-kept secrets” in Washington.

White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Paparo assumed command of PACFLEET — the tip of the Navy spear when it comes to containing China — in May 2021.

His spokesperson did not return a request for comment Monday afternoon.

While Franchetti was expected to be nominated as CNO, command of PACFLEET has in the past often led to the job of leading the joint-force U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a route taken by current INDOPACOM head Adm. John Aquilino.

Navy officials declined to comment on the Paparo nomination Monday, and Defense Department officials declined to provide an on-record comment by Navy Times’ deadline.

“This is a Presidential decision,” Navy spokesman Rear Adm. Ryan Perry said in a statement. “The United States Navy has several highly qualified senior leaders, and it would be inappropriate to speculate which leader the President will nominate to serve as the next Chief of Naval Operations.”

The current CNO, Adm. Mike Gilday, became the top naval officer in August 2019.

Gilday is statutorily required to step down after four years. His last day will be Aug. 21, and the following day a new leader will have to be in charge. If Biden’s pick for CNO cannot be confirmed by that date — a possibility, as Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville is not allowing military nominations to move forward in the Senate — then Franchetti will be called upon to perform the duties of CNO.

Arnold Punaro, a former staff director on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense News that the services’ current vice chiefs can perform the duties of chief with no limitations, should there be a delay in the Senate confirming new service chiefs.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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