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Gates has pick for Air Force secretary

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely to recommend to President Bush that he nominate a former Air Force executive, Michael Donley, to the service's top civilian post, a senior defense official said Friday.

Donley, who was acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months in 1993 and served as the service's top financial officer from 1989 to 1993, would replace Michael Wynne, who was fired by Gates on Thursday along with the Air Force's top uniformed officer, Gen. Michael Moseley.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush spoke with Gates about the shake-up Wednesday.

It was unclear whom Gates would choose to replace Moseley, who has been Air Force chief of staff since 2005. Among the four-star generals thought to be candidates are Gen. Norton Schwartz, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command; Gen. John Corley, the commander of Air Combat Command; and Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, which writes and maintains the nation's nuclear war plan.

Gates announced Thursday that he was replacing the Air Force's top leadership, saying a shake-up was required to ensure that the service improve its standards and performance in safeguarding its nuclear weapons and the sensitive components associated with the strategic arsenal.

Gates said his decision was based mainly on the damning conclusions of an internal report that detailed the mistaken shipment to Taiwan of four Air Force electrical fuses for ballistic missile warheads. And he linked the underlying causes of that slip-up to another startling incident: the flight last August of a B-52 bomber that was mistakenly armed with six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

The report drew the conclusion that a decline in the Air Force's nuclear standards has been a known shortcoming but has not been effectively addressed for over a decade.

Wynne's resignation letter was released Friday. He offered no apology, saying control of the Air Force's nuclear-related assets is a “firm commitment” by the Air Force to the nation and that he has been a longtime believer in accepting responsibility and being accountable.

Wynne had been Air Force secretary since 2005.