After a monthslong wait, the Air Force has a new No. 2 officer. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife was sworn in as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force and received his fourth star on Dec. 29.
“We stand at the precipice of a different strategic environment,” Slife said in remarks at a small ceremony at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
Between Slife and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin, the Air Force now has no fighter or bomber pilot in either of its top two jobs—Slife was a special operations pilot and Allvin was a mobility aviator, including time as a test pilot.
Slife will now help guide the Air Staff through what are expected to be significant changes for the service. The Air Force will soon unveil its plans for “re-optimization,” which Slife had been helping shape in his previous role as deputy chief of staff for operations (A3).
Led by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, the re-optimization is aimed at improving service readiness for potential conflict with China, officials say. The branch already increasingly centers its operations around the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concept, in which teams of Airmen disperse to operate from remote or austere locations. Leaders also introduced a new force generation model known as AFFORGEN.
On the Air Staff, Slife was charged with helping with the development and implementation of those policies as well as overall oversight of operations, force management, training, and readiness.
“The attributes that this strategic environment demands are a focus on mission over function,” Slife said of his work as the A3 in an interview with Air & Space Forces Magazine before he became VCSAF. “It prizes agility and adaptiveness.”
In the role of Vice Chief, Slife will have a broader remit overseeing the USAF’s adaptation to that environment.
“[It’s] the hardest thing we’ve done in a long time and maybe the hardest thing we do together,” Allvin said of the changes ahead for the service. “Having someone on the team who knows that and has done that … couldn’t be better now for our force.”
Slife has “seen all parts of the business and has done it with excellence,” Allvin added.
Slife has spent most of his Air Force career in special operations at Hurlburt Field, Fla.; RAF Mildenhall, U.K.; and Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.; culminating in becoming a major command boss as the head of Air Force Special Operations Command. Slife then moved to the Pentagon in December 2022.
Slife was not confirmed as VCSAF until Dec. 19 despite being nominated for the job in September, which left the Air Force without a Vice Chief for three months. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) placed a hold on en masse confirmation of senior military promotions and nominations, which are subject to Senate approval, in protest of the Department of Defense’s reproductive health policies. The hold on most of the officers was lifted in early December, but Slife was part of the last batch of four-star generals that were confirmed two weeks later.
There are still many confirmed Air Force generals who have yet to assume their new posts, but Slife’s elevation is a significant step toward more senior officers beginning to take on their new assignments
As VCSAF, Slife will join other service vice chiefs as a member of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), which focuses on identifying common requirements across the U.S. military.
“That dialogue is going to be necessary because I believe, in some ways, our technology has advanced faster than our service cultures have combined,” Allvin said in a recent interview with Air & Space Forces Magazine, speaking of his own experience on the JROC as the Air Force’s Vice Chief from 2020-2023.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the CSAF for most of Slife’s tenure on the Air Staff, offered praise for Slife—as a person and as an Airman.
“This is a very proud day because this is something I thought Jim Slife truly deserved,” said Brown. “I really felt like Jim was one of those that I could always turn to because he always provided thoughtful insights.”