President Joe Biden plans to nominate Ravi Chaudhary, a former Federal Aviation Administration official who served in the Air Force for more than 20 years, as the Air Force’s next assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy on Thursday, a White House official tells Air Force Times.
If confirmed by the Senate, Chaudhary would take over a massive portfolio spanning Air Force and Space Force installations worldwide as the service grapples with the effects of deferred maintenance and climate change. He’ll also have a key role in managing the privatized housing used by airmen and guardians and reforms to how the military does business with those landlords.
Chaudhary most recently served as the director of advanced programs and innovation in the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation for nearly three years. In that job, he oversaw research and development programs related to space travel, and was involved in regulating the budding commercial space industry from December 2017 to August 2020, according to his public LinkedIn profile.
Prior to that he worked as the FAA’s executive director of regions and center operations for three years, handling regulatory oversight and management of the aviation agency’s operations, safety, emergency readiness, facilities management and more, according to LinkedIn.
Chaudhary dealt with programs in that role — such as the “Next-Generation Air Transportation System” technologies and policies aimed at modernizing the U.S. air traffic enterprise — that echo the same infrastructure issues he will face in the Air Force.
“Our current air traffic system is based on infrastructure that was built 50 years ago and is becoming increasingly costly to maintain,” he told a Women in Aviation International gathering in 2015. “Deploying NextGen throughout our [National Airspace System] by involving industry, government and academic stakeholders will enhance widespread benefits, both in dollars and environmental benefits through fuel savings and reduced carbon emissions.”
Chaudhary’s profile shows he has been self-employed as an aerospace and defense executive since August 2020. The Georgetown University Space Initiative, which he advises, noted in May that Chaudhary was chief executive officer of Virginia-based Falcon Innovations Aerospace, Training and Strategy.
Upon confirmation, he would replace John Henderson, who joined the Air Force secretariat in 2018 following a 23-year career in the Army Corps of Engineers. Henderson left the post in January, as is typical for political nominees when the presidency changes hands.
Jennifer Miller, the deputy assistant secretary, has been in the job on an acting basis since Henderson departed.
The Air Force estimated in 2019 that it faced a $33 billion backlog in deferred costs for base maintenance, construction and renovation projects. It proposed a sweeping plan that includes divesting, demolishing, converting or consolidating 5 percent of its total facility square footage over 20 years.
The service owned nearly 448 million square feet of buildings, leased about 5.2 million square feet, and listed about 17 million square feet as “other” in the United States and U.S. territories alone, as of a fiscal year 2018 Pentagon report.
In January, the service released a new energy strategic plan to become a more ecofriendly, fuel-efficient force and to better weather power outages — a concern spotlighted by the devastating effects of Texas’s power grid failure earlier this year that affected residential, commercial and military buildings alike.
“This plan captures major shifts in the department’s approach to installation energy,” said Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and infrastructure. “By placing a greater focus on resilience and mission, the strategic plan will create an enterprise that is ultimately more prepared to deliver energy and water when and where it is needed to protect the nation, its values, and its interests.”
The Air Force is also in the process of rebuilding Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and Offutt AFB, Nebraska, after natural disasters caused major damage there, and is trying to prepare other bases to withstand similar effects of hurricanes, wildfires, sea level rise and more.
Chaudhary, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy before going on to fly the C-17 Globemaster III transport plane in combat and around the world, has also worked on the GPS constellation and supported NASA’s International Space Station program.
The Obama administration alum joined the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. He has documented instances of racism and hate against AAPI service members for more than a decade, including in a report on those challenges in 2017.
“We must move past the discussion of diversity or the mission,” Chaudhary, a Hindu and the son of Indian immigrants, wrote in a May op-ed. “‘Diversity for the mission’ must be the new mantra in our fight. … Diversity must become forever synonymous with our military’s combat edge, and a critical piece of our national security strategy.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.