WASHINGTON — Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti is widely seen as the most likely candidate to lead the Navy as the next chief of naval operations, an appointment that would make her both the first woman to lead the Navy and the first woman to serve as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There is always a chance things could change up until the White House makes the public announcement, but in recent weeks Navy observers and defense analysts talking with Breaking Defense have broadly coalesced around the notion Franchetti will receive the green light.
If selected and confirmed, she will follow Adm. Michael Gilday, the former 10th Fleet Commander whose own nomination to become the Navy’s senior admiral four years ago was relatively abrupt and unexpected, preceded by a scandal that forced the White House’s first pick to withdraw from the process.
Franchetti, a native of Rochester, NY, is a career surface warfare officer and just one of just a handful of female four-star officers in the US military. She’s previously served as the director for strategy, plans and policy on the Joint Staff and commanded US 6th Fleet.
Having taken the helm as VCNO in September 2022, Franchetti is only the second woman to hold the office, behind now retired Adm. Michelle Howard. She has been much less visible publicly than her boss, Gilday, mostly seen during congressional hearings, as well as a keynote speech during the annual Sea Air Space exposition earlier this year and a March interview on CBS News featuring the Pentagon’s most senior female officers.
During the CBS News interview, Franchetti recalled how during her first deployment, the commanding officer of her ship bluntly told her he didn’t want women aboard and was intent on seeing her fail.
That clearly didn’t happen, as Franchetti rose through the ranks and between 2018 and 2020, commanded US 6th Fleet, based in Naples, Italy.
As chief, she was responsible for forces in and around the Black Sea, and notably, in proximity to the Russian navy. During a 2019 interview with Defense News, she described her own experiences interacting with the Russians at the time as largely “professional,” save for one “aircraft interaction” that she deemed “unprofessional.”
“We operate in international waters,” she said at the time. “The Russians are operating in international waters. My expectation of my forces and the Russian forces is that they are going to be safe and professional. All the navies have a right and responsibility to act professionally at sea.”
The experience operating in the Mediterranean and near the Russian fleet will be more relevant now than ever as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. Just this week, a variety of reports made their way through Twitter asserting the Ukrainians had used unmanned naval vessels to attack the Russian navy’s fleet.
Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of US Pacific Fleet and a graduate of the service’s famous TOPGUN school, has been widely viewed as the other top contender to become CNO.
One question to watch is how Franchetti builds relationships with industry, as Gilday had several public clashes with the defense sector. The admiral has admonished defense lobbyists for seeking planes the Navy “doesn’t need” and publicly called out certain shipbuilders for failing to bring the service’s vessels out of maintenance quickly enough.
Adm. Linda Fagan, the commandant of the Coast Guard, became the first woman to lead a branch of the military in June 2022. However, the Coast Guard is not part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and operates under the Department of Homeland Security.
The CNO spot is just one of a series of changes coming for the Joint Chiefs. The White House on Thursday officially nominated Air Force Gen. CQ Brown to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, beating out the other top contender, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger; Berger himself will be retiring soon, leaving another new face on the Joint Chiefs meetings. And in late April, Biden tapped Army vice chief of staff Gen. Randy George to take over as leader of that service.