WASHINGTON — Adm. Samuel Locklear has been nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Pacific Command, which encompasses a region top U.S. officials have recently trumpeted as central to 21st century national security.
Locklear, who currently commands U.S. Naval Forces Europe, U.S. Naval Forces Africa and Allied Joint Forces Command, Naples, Italy, would replace Adm. Robert Willard as head of PACOM.
The largest of the combatant commands, PACOM is beset by a broad range of challenges. Among them is the ongoing threat from North Korea, including the possibility of aggression spurred by succession issues following the death of autocratic leader Kim Jong Il. Meanwhile, an increasingly assertive China has tangled with its neighbors over maritime access issues and is quickly developing its ability to project power at sea through the development of new weapons, including the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile.
The seemingly intractable issue of U.S. base realignment continues to percolate, with the United States pushing Japan to go ahead with a planned move for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to nearby facilities that would be built on landfill, against strong local opposition on Okinawa.
Prior to his current assignment, Locklear, a surface warfare officer, served as Navy Staff director. Before that, he directed several Navy divisions, including Programming and Assessment. A 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Locklear served as the 78th commandant of midshipmen at the academy.
Previously, Locklear had commanded Destroyer Squadron Two, the Nimitz Strike Group, and U.S. 3rd Fleet. He had been commander of the destroyer USS Leftwich before moving to fleet command assignments.
Willard, a former F-14 pilot and executive operations officer of Navy Fighter Weapons School took command of PACOM in late 2009.
A date for the handoff had not been announced, a U.S. Pacific Command spokeswoman said Wednesday.