Melissa Dalton Confirmed as New Air Force Undersecretary

The Senate confirmed Melissa Dalton to be the 28th undersecretary of the Air Force, the department’s No. 2 civilian job, on May 23. 

Dalton’s confirmation comes eight months after she was first nominated to succeed Gina Ortiz Jones, who held the job from July 2021-March 2023. Department comptroller Krysten E. Jones performed the duties of undersecretary for more than 14 months—the longest tenure of any interim Air Force undersecretary in recent memory. 

Dalton has served as the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs since March 2022. In that role, she has advised the Secretary of Defense on key issues like homeland defense, the Arctic, and defense policy for North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean. 

Recently, she has been performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. She also had a stint as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities and previously served in the Obama and Bush administrations. She began her national security career as an intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.  

As undersecretary, Dalton will be the principal deputy for Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and help shepherd the department through its ongoing “re-optimization” for Great Power Competition, which includes sweeping organizational changes across the Air Force and Space Force. 

Dalton’s nomination faced intense scrutiny from Republican lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee during her confirmation hearing Jan. 23, who questioned her on the sale of unused construction materials for a border wall on the southern border, the transit of the continental U.S. by a high-altitude Chinese spy balloon in early 2023, and her relative lack of Air Force experience. 

At that hearing, Dalton did pledge to prioritize nuclear modernization, leveraging her experience working on the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review—that could be particularly crucial as the Air Force works on a review of its Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program that has experienced critical cost and schedule overruns and is at risk of being cancelled. 

The committee voted 14-10 to advance her nomination in March. She was confirmed in the Senate by a 56-39 vote, the first time an Air Force undersecretary has not been confirmed by voice vote since at least 2000. 

Dalton is the seventh woman confirmed to the job.