Senate tests Obama’s veto; Gridlock threatens DOD weapons projects; Campbell: Only U.S. to blame; F-35s with lasers?; and a bit more…

Senate clears NDAA…for Obama to veto. While the House remains gridlocked on the budget, senators moved the $612 billion defense policy bill one step closer to passage—and Barack Obama’s veto pen—on Tuesday, showing their increasingly rare ability to govern (one week late into the new fiscal year) but with a very familiar (and hackneyed) bit of We-love-the-troops-more-shaming their political opponents.

OCO? Oh yes. Obama’s veto threat is meant mostly to do two things: close Gitmo and force Congress to eliminate the off-budget war slush fund. But 21 Democrats strayed from the party line, voting for a bill that retains the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund. The Democrats gave the Republican majority a 73-26 vote to tout against Obama’s veto threat. But judging by the well-worn rhetoric accusing Obama of “holding national security hostage” that came out of the upper chamber yesterday, Republican senators are well aware that while they may have a cushion of votes above the 67 required to override Obama’s veto in the Senate. Their colleagues in the House do not. This is gonna be fun.

Rubio skipped the vote. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio unapologetically is absent from the Senate as he campaigns for the higher office. CNN says he has missed more votes than any other senator, including for Tuesday’s defense authorization bill, where Republicans might have needed him to avoid a Democratic filibuster. While the 15-minute vote was held open for 90 minutes, Rubio was in New Hampshire. For a guy who wants to be commander-in-chief and has spent considerable time and energy positioning himself as a national-security leader who deserves the nation’s attention—much less the national-security community—it’s a curious vote to miss. “Few lawmakers seem willing, at this point, to support Rubio’s campaign,” CNN notes.

Hundreds of weapons projects threatened. If Congress can’t get their…act…together and pass a budget, hundreds of Pentagon’s weapons projects will come to a screeching halt or be cut by half. That’s the grim warning Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall gave at Defense One LIVE’s State of Acquisition event on Tuesday. (Here’s the article and video.) Kendall brought with him the acquisition chiefs from the Army, Navy and Air Force, who all sounded alarm bells and warned Congress that the continuing resolution keeping the government open until December should not be extended for the full fiscal 2016.

Bye-bye, C-130s. Guess what happens to the $5.8 billion deal to build new C-130 cargo planes—and 50 other Air Force projects? Assistant Secretary William LaPlante, the Air Force’s acquisition chief, explains here.

Bye-bye, Apache helicopters. Assistant Army Secretary Heidi Shyu said the planned purchase of badly needed 64 helos would be cut in half.

All the acquisition news that’s fit to print. The entire defense trade press corps covered the event, reporting Kendall’s conclusion that reforms—aka Better Buying Power—are having positive effects for many programs. That, and many other angles, including from Reuters, on the budget gridlock’s impact and Russian rocket engines; Air Force Times, on JSTARS’ dicey fate; DODBuzz, on reform highlights; FCW, on DOD’s software needs; FlightGlobal, on mergers; C4ISR & Networks, on preparing for gridlock; Fiscal Times, on NDAA; Breaking Defense, on the OCO showdown; and Defense News, on the NDAA bill’s reform compromises, and defense industry prime mergers.

Russia, Syria team up to hit rebels in what “appeared to be the first major coordinated assaults on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday,” Reuters reports. “The combined assault hit towns close to the main north-south highway that runs through major cities in the mainly government-held west of Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.” More, here.

And now some Iraqi lawmakers want Russian help against ISIS. “‘We welcome Russian airstrikes in Iraq to help hit Islamic State headquarters, target Islamic State supply lines from Syria and target the oil smuggling lines,’ said Moeen al-Kadhimi, a spokesman for the Badr Corps, an Iranian-backed militia and political party that plays a front-line role in fighting Islamic State,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Momentum appears to be quickly building for Moscow to increase its involvement in Iraq.” That, here.    

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says U.S. should stay. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Gen. John Campbell, the commanding general in Kabul just gave the president his options for drawing down American troop presence in Afghanistan. Campbell becomes the fifth war commander to hand in his wish list, with the usual warnings about “conditions” on the ground. Campbell’s assessments follow similar moments with Gens. Joseph Dunford, John Allen, David Petraeus, and Stanley McChrystal, but with far less bated breath in Washington. Obama already is reconsidering his plan to hold at 10,000 U.S. troops through 2016. That plan “did not take into account the change over the last two years,” the general told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Campbell has presented five options.

Campbell says U.S., not Afghans, to blame for hospital strike. The general privately is telling Washington officials that special operations forces did not have confirmation of the target, and that means no matter what Afghans requested, Americans within his chain of command are responsible for the strike that killed 11 staff and patients. That from the New York Times.

From Defense One

Now they want to add lasers to the F-35. Seriously, we’re not kidding. The F-35, poster child of requirements creep, delays, and cost overruns, could be fitted for freakin’ laser beams, reports Technology Editor Patrick Tucker. Lockheed’s laser folks say they are working on “integration” into the jet and talking to Air Force about making it happen. Pew pew.

NSA spying violates E.U. rules. So ruled a European Union court, this week, which struck down a deal allowing U.S. companies “safe harbor” from European laws so NSA could collect information on European citizens from places like Facebook and Google. “The end of the current safe-harbor regime will be a major global victory for privacy,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. The U.S. mission respectfully disagreed, saying NSA’s collection method “is in fact targeted against particular valid foreign intelligence targets.”

Wanna get away at AUSA next week? Escape the convention center for Defense One LIVE’s Cocktails and Conversation with U.S. Army Europe commanding general, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges to chat about strategy and challenges in the new era of land warfare, from Russia to ISIS. We’re pleased to announce that also joining us will be Col. Steven Sliwa, director of the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, to talk about the ground-level challenges of those conflicts in the nearer term. Together they join CNAS’ Paul Scharre and Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron (that’s me) who will moderate. Please register and join us on Tues., Oct. 13, 5 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th St., NW, of all places.

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The D Brief, from an increasingly bleary-eyed Kevin Baron and Defense One. Ben Watson will return—thank goodness—on Monday. Tell your friends to subscribe here: Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know:

ISIS loves what you do for me. Toyota! But how did they get so many brand spankin’ new Hilux pickups and Land Cruisers? “There are too many that could be just stolen,” said Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “We believe that sales are being diverted from these dealerships to support ISIS.” Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador in Washington, said ISIS has hundreds of new vehicles. Toyota denied they know anything about the black market, but refused to talk to ABC News’s Brian Ross.

Halt! Thornberry forces Army to delay Martland’s discharge. The controversial story of the dismissal of Army Sgt. Charles Martland took another twist Tuesday. House Armed Services Committe Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., asked the Army to delay Martin’s discharge while his case can be reviewed—again. In an extraordinary move, the Army agreed “out of respect” for Thornberry and his “support for our military.” (Quid pro quo? Can you think of any other such direct, or high-profile, Congressional intervention into a U.S. military disciplinary action?) Martin, a Green Beret, is to be discharged Nov. 1 for helping assault an Afghan police officer who was sexually abusing an Afghan boy. As the American public became aware of Martin’s case, and that such abuse was frequent in Afghanistan, the soldier has become somewhat of a conservative cult hero. More from Army Times, here.

Here’s a picture of Ash Carter meeting Bob Dole in Rome. And not much else to report from Carter’s EuroTrip, until they reach Brussels for Thursday’s regular NATO defense ministerial meeting.

More Benghazi, from the “politics of national security” folder, where National Journal has an article today whose headline captures it all: “On Planned Parenthood and Benghazi, Democrats Weigh Whether to Boycott or Battle.” The story is about whether Dems will or won’t participate in the two select committees they say are just partisan crapola, but are spoils of the majority they hope to retain for their own use, one day—especially Hillary Clinton’s Oct. 22 Benghazi hearing. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said, “At some point we may decide that it’s not worth conferring any kind of legitimacy on the committee by our presence if it continues to have as its sole object the defeat of Secretary Clinton.” But Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Ga., said he’ll play along so he can defend Clinton. “Obviously, this is an unethical abuse of millions of taxpayer dollars and a crass assault on the memories of the four Americans who died, and I believe it should be halted immediately.”

And finally, if you stayed up past reveille Monday night, you might have seen Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., get booed on Stephen Colbert’s new Late Show for making an Obama joke. But Colbert did engage the war hero and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman (who happened to be the 2008 GOP presidential nominee) on Iraq in this exchange, captured by the Phoenix New Times:

McCain: “I think we should definitely have boots on the ground — not a lot, but we better do something.”

“Can you give me an idea of how many troops you’re talking about?” Colbert asked.

“I’m talking a couple thousand.”

“Just a couple thousand? We couldn’t bring order to Iraq with a hundred thousand troops in 10 years.”

Over the audience’s applause, it was almost impossible to hear McCain say: “We did bring order to Iraq.”

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