Defense Secretary Robert Gates has broken with tradition and picked a former fighter pilot as his surprise choice to lead the US Marine Corps, media reports said Tuesday.
Gates reportedly plans to promote General James Amos, currently second in command of the Marines, to commandant when General James Conway's four-year term expires later this year.
Amos would be the first officer with a fighter pilot background to lead the elite force, which is heavily engaged in the war in Afghanistan.
The selection followed speculation the top job would go to either Lieutenant General Joseph Dunford or General James Mattis, who is seen as an expert on counter-insurgency warfare, Politico and other US media reported.
The Pentagon declined to confirm or deny the move, which would mark Gates's latest attempt to challenge the status quo in the military, after firing some top officers and making unorthodox appointments.
Amos would be the first Marine general to be promoted to lead the service from assistant commandant. Reports said Dunford would succeed him in the number two position.
The recommendation must go to the White House and if President Barack Obama approves his nomination, Amos would need to be confirmed by Congress.
Gates has said he wants to see the next commandant define the role of the Marines beyond the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Amos has not served in Afghanistan, where the warfare is dominated more by ground forces than by air power.
He served in Iraq in the early days of the US-led invasion, and in his role as assistant commandant he has sought more resources to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
The next commandant will have to carry out plans approved by Congress and Obama to allow gays to serve openly in the US military, a policy change that the current leader of the Marines has openly opposed.
General Conway, known for his blunt speaking, told a Senate hearing in February that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law -- which bans gays from serving openly -- had worked well since it was adopted in 1993.
He suggested that lifting the ban could threaten the combat "readiness" of the military and Marine Corps.
The next commandant will also face a challenge in preserving plans for expensive new amphibious ships, which the marines see as vital. Gates has questioned the need for the vessels, citing anti-ship missiles that could make beach landings increasingly unlikely.
© AFP 2013