Three sources with access to senior Air Force officials say Air Combat Command's Gen. William Fraser is the odds-on choice to replace Gen. Norton Schwartz as Air Force Chief of Staff.
At the same time, earlier rumors that Schwartz was in line to replace Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Hoss Cartwright seem to be softening. Schwartz told me at the Air Force Association conference that reports of his moving to take Cartwright's job were "pure speculation," which, of course, is absolutely true but doesn't mean it won't happen. And one source said there doesn't seem to be a great hurry to move Schwartz and give Fraser a new job.
However, the fact that several sources with access to the highest reaches of the Air Force leadership are confirming Fraser as a candidate indicates the matter of Schwartz's replacement is being discussed. And it would only be discussed in any detail if Schwartz looked likely to be leaving fairly soon.
If Cartwright leaves for the White House to become National Security Advisor around Christmas, his departure would, in the words of one source, create a "ripple down," freeing up some of these very slots.
Fraser has a reputation as an aggressive and thoughtful leader, someone seen as willing to speak his mind even at risk of censure by senior Pentagon officials. In an Air Force where many senior generals keep their counsel close for fear of angering the man who fires Air Force leaders -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- that may help reinvigorate the service. Fraser knows Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen pretty well, having served as his assistant for almost 18 months, ending in October 2008. And he knows the intelligence world, having spent two years when a brigadier as deputy director for national systems operations on the Joint Staff, a dual billet assignment that also carries with it the title and job of deputy director for military support at the National Reconnaissance Office. So Fraser can operate in two of the service's three domains, space and air, and he knows the often exquisitely complicated and sensitive issues surrounding the Air Force's relationship with the intelligence community. Of course, he also boasts prior experience managing the entire Air Force enterprise, having served one year as vice chief of staff after he left Mullen's side.
"He would be a great choice. He has all the right tools," said one source who knows Fraser.