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NATO announces new head of Norfolk command

NATO said Monday that France's air force commander will take over the military alliance's strategic command based in the United States, which is in charge of maintaining NATO's military capabilities in an age of austerity and shrinking defense budgets.

Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros will replace fellow Frenchman Gen. Stephane Abrial, who in 2009 became the first non-American officer to head a major command in North America.

Palomeros, chief of staff of the French air force, was nominated by French President Francois Hollande, the statement said. The nomination was endorsed on Monday by the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's governing body.

Palomeros will be in charge of the Allied Transformation Command in Norfolk, Virginia, whose current focus is "smart defense," a concept under which NATO's 28 member nations pool resources to increase cost-efficiency as military expenditures are declining in Europe and the United States.

NATO's seven-month bombing campaign of Libya last year — conducted primarily by European members — exposed serious shortages in their strategic transport, aerial surveillance, air refueling and unmanned drones, most of which had to be supplied by the United States.

NATO hopes that member nations will put aside concerns over sovereignty and formally agree to create joint defense capabilities — a goal that has proven elusive in the organization's 63-year history.

NATO's other strategic command — Allied Command Operations, which oversees all military operations, including the war in Afghanistan — is based in Mons, Belgium. It is headed by U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who was scheduled to leave this summer but has been asked to extend his tour until at least the end of 2012.