The British government has appointed a senior Royal Air Force officer to head the country's armed forces.

Officials announced Friday that Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach will take over as chief of the defense staff when Gen. Nicholas Houghton retires this summer.

The 59-year-old is a former navigator on Tornado jets who has served in Iraq, Kosovo, Belize, Hong Kong and Germany. He has been vice-chief of the defense staff since 2013.

He will lead a British military whose numbers have been reduced through personnel cuts but that still seeks to play a major global role, especially against the Islamic State militant group.

The top military post can be filled by an officer from the army, navy or air force. The last two chiefs have been army generals.