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Pentagon recommends nuclear director to be next Navy chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is recommending that Adm. John Richardson, head of the Navy’s nuclear program, be named the next chief of naval operations, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Richardson would be the second submariner in a row to serve as the Navy’s top officer. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the current Navy chief, also spent much of his career serving as a submarine officer.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to make the announcement Wednesday, and will also disclose who he is recommending as the next chief of staff of the Army. A number of senior officers have been discussed as leading candidates for the Army job, including Gen. John Campbell, the top commander in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander for the Middle East; Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in Korea; and Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of Army forces in the Pacific. Other names include Gen. Dan Allyn, the vice chief of the Army and Gen. David Perkins, who heads U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss the nomination ahead of the announcement so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Richardson is a 1982 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics, and he also holds a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has served as director of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program since November 2012, and his choice signals the military’s continued emphasis on undersea warfare and nuclear deterrence.

One official said Richardson has a reputation in the Navy as an analytical strategic thinker, and that he is expected to continue to make the planned nuclear submarine replacement program a top priority.

Last year, Richardson ordered a broad investigation into allegations that a cheating ring had operated undetected for at least seven years at a nuclear power training site. Nearly three dozen sailors were kicked out of the program after the Navy discovered they were cheating on qualification exams. They were seeking to become qualified as instructors at the nuclear training unit in Charleston, South Carolina.

Students there are trained in nuclear reactor operations to prepare for service on any of the Navy’s 83 nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

In an interview with The Associated Press last August, Richardson said he was “loaded for bear” early on in the investigation, because he wasn’t convinced the cheating was confined to a single training unit. But he later came to believe it hadn’t spread, which helped the cheating go undetected for so long.

During the probe, Richardson met with each of the accused and said he heard at least two common themes: a belief that there was little risk of getting caught, and a work environment at the nuclear training site that created stresses and pressures on the instructors. He said he was taking steps to ease the pressures and to strengthen ethics training.

Carter has had a number of senior level vacancies to fill. Gen. Joe Dunford has been nominated as the next chairman of the joint chiefs, which opens up his current job as commandant of the Marine Corps.

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AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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