New PACAF Commander Tapped, Among Several Key Air Force Moves

The Air Force is poised to get a new commander in the Indo-Pacific, as the Pentagon announced April 24 that President Joe Biden has nominated Lt. Gen. Kevin B. Schneider to lead Pacific Air Forces. 

Schneider is currently director of staff at Headquarters Air Force. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll succeed Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach as PACAF commander—a crucial role, as the Air Force continues to add focus and resources to counter the “pacing threat” of China. Wilsbach’s next assignment has not been announced.

A fighter pilot with extensive experience on the F-16, Schneider was commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force at Yokota Air Base, Japan, prior to his Pentagon assignment. Before that, he held back-to-back assignments as chief of staff for PACAF and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. 

“The People’s Republic of China continues to behave in an increasingly aggressive manner and trample on democratic ideals and have worked to fracture and rewrite a rules-based international order that for decades has provided benefit and opportunity to all,” Schneider said in his farewell speech as USFJ commander in August 2021. 

Schneider has also commanded at the squadron and wing level and served stints in U.S. Central Command. 

Wilsbach took charge of PACAF in July 2020. In that time, he has continued the major command’s focus on Agile Combat Employment, including the deployment of fifth-generation fighters to Tinian and the Philippines for the first time. PACAF has also frequently deployed fighters and bombers as of late to fly alongside Japanese and South Korean aircraft in response to North Korean missile tests. 

All the while, China has upped its aggressive actions, sending more and more planes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. Late last year, a Chinese fighter came within a few yards of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint over the South China Sea, and Chinese leaders have subsequently declined deconfliction talks with U.S. military leaders. 

Depending on when Schneider is confirmed, he will also have to oversee a key transition at Kadena Air Base, Japan—the closest USAF base to Taiwan. The base’s aging F-15 Eagles are returning to the U.S. while a rotation of fighters cycle through to keep up the American forward presence, but a permanent replacement aircraft has yet to be announced. 

In addition to Schneider, the Pentagon announced five other Air Force general officer nominations April 24. 

Schneider’s No. 2 at PACAF will be Maj. Gen. Laura L. Lenderman, who has also been nominated for a third star. At the moment, Lenderman is the director of operations for U.S. Transporation Command. 

Lt. Gen. Scott L. Pleus is slated to take Schneider’s spot as director of staff on the Air Staff while retaining the same rank—Pleus is currently the deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the commander of the Seventh Air Force at Osan Air Base, South Korea. 

Maj. Gen. David R. Iverson would then slide into Pleus’ current roles for both U.S. Forces Korea and the Seventh Air Force, while pinning on a third star. Iverson is currently the director of air and cyberspace operations for PACAF. 

Outside of the Indo-Pacific, Maj. Gen. David A. Harris Jr. has been tapped to become a lieutenant general and deputy chief of staff for Air Force Futures, which is currently led by Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote. Harris is the deputy commander of Air Forces Central and the deputy combined forces air component commander for Air Combat Command at Al Udeid in Qatar. 

Finally, Brig. Gen. Dale R. White has been nominated to jump all the way to three stars and become the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics—the service’s acquisition executive. 

White was only recently nominated for a second star. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved that nomination March 28, but it is among a group of nominations on hold due to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who placed holds on nominations to protest a Pentagon policy allowing the military to cover the cost of travel for troops who must go out of state to obtain a legal abortion. 

Depending on how White’s nominations play out, he could join a select group of Air Force generals to skip a rank in the promotion process. Lt. Gen. Caroline M. Miller, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services, was the latest to do so in 2022.