Locklear on the shortlist; Outrage over Republicans' Iran letter; A VA manager: “oh my goodness;” Lippert feels “pretty darn good”; Get unconfused about general-speak; And a bit more.

Palace intrigue: The Pentagon asked Locklear not to retire and now he’s on the shortlist for Chairman. The retirement of Adm. Sam Locklear, now the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has been held up for months, feeding speculation that he could have been under investigation by Justice Department authorities over the Fat Leonard corruption scandal and had been essentially prevented from retiring.

But this morning, it doesn’t look like that’s the case at all. Locklear had submitted his retirement papers but was asked to take them back to give newly-minted Defense Secretary Ash Carter more options when it comes time to decide who will be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – a decision which is reasonably imminent. And a senior defense official told The D Brief that the Justice Department investigation is not what’s holding up Locklear’s retirement or a change of command ceremony for PACOM – meaning he’s under consideration for chairman.

Locklear is one of a handful of senior officers under consideration for Chairman. They include Marine Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld.

Carter has a lot of decisions to make. He doesn’t just have to make recommendations for chairman and, likely, for vice-chairman, he’s also got to pick folks to become a new Army Chief of Staff and a Chief of Naval Operations – both Gen. Ray Odierno and Adm. Jon Greenert are due to move on (and likely retire) by September.

What made Locklear’s situation notable was that he was due to retire from PACOM sometime after December - when Adm. Harry Harris was confirmed to replace him. But now, three months later (almost to the day) from when Harris was confirmed, he waits in the wings. Good thing he’s now the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, also based in Hawaii - so when the time comes, he won’t have to move far, and he gets to stay in paradise. But Locklear’s future - and that of the other officers under consideration - is uncertain. Read Lubold’s story here.

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The Ukrainian conflict is turning into a proving ground for the most significant and perhaps even creative use of drones in warfare between two opposite sides of a battlefield. Defense One tech editor Patrick Tucker: “The most sophisticated UAV that has come out of the Ukrainian side since the start of the conflict is called the PD-1 from developer Igor Korolenko… Korolenko has either designed or modified several UAVs to help with the war effort. He’s part of a volunteer group called the People’s Project, a kind of tech incubation lab based primarily in Kiev... He describes the business model as ‘sort of wartime crowdfunding,’ Kickstarter for conflict.

“The Russian-backed militias have access to the latest and most sophisticated in signal jamming and GPS spoofing technology from suppliers like the Moscow-based Radio-Electronic Technologies Corporation, or KRET, and expensive, truck-based anti-aircraft systems like the Krasuha 2… [Meaning] Even if the United States were to provide lethal aid in the form of shoulder-fired missiles, radar and drones, a fundamental capabilities and resupply gap would persist on the ground.” Read the full report, here.

What a difference a weekend makes – for the Navy’s ship counters. Defense News’ Chris Cavas on the incredible shrinking Navy: “Something odd happened to the US Navy a few days ago. Somewhere between February and March, the fleet lost nine ships. The web page where the service lists its vital statistics — number of people, number of ships, etc. — showed a fleet of 284 ships as Feb. 27 came to a close. But on March 2, that same fleet was officially listed as 275 ships. But no real ships were decommissioned, sold, sunk or otherwise disposed of. So what happened? In a word, Congress.”

“How many ships I got, anyway?” Turns out, it’s all in the way you count ‘em.  More from Cavas, here.

Contrary to Gregg Easterbrook’s NYTs piece on the Navy’s current size entitled “The Navy Is Big Enough,” retired Naval officer Bryan McGrath counters that Easterbrook deployed “a tendentious restatement of the poorly informed ruminations of others… [and] thoroughly misunderstands the role of navies in general, and the U.S. Navy in particular.” That rebuttal in full, here.

General Dynamics is more than a year behind on delivering its first two electric-powered Zumwalt-class destroyers to the Navy, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reports: “Work at the contractor’s Bath Iron Works unit in Maine has fallen behind “due to the complexity of the first-ever all-electric ship and the particular demand it has created for skilled electricians shipyard-wide,” Commander Thurraya Kent, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

“The Navy and Bath Iron Works now estimate that delivery of the first of three vessels in the $22 billion program, which had been planned for September 2014, will be in November.” More here.

BTW, China’s not so happy with a man who sold 500 images of the country’s first carrier – and Beijing is holding him now. That story, in the West Australian, here.

Ahead of today’s posture hearings, John McCain and Mac Thornberry have a message for Republicans: you can’t defend a smaller defense budget than Obama. Seems everyone is against sequester, but of course not really, since there is essentially a silent majority who is in favor of it. Republicans John McCain and Mac Thornberry take on the pro-sequesterers in this op-ed in the WSJ this morning. Their BL: "America faces what Henry Kissinger has called the most 'diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.' How can Republicans—the party of Ronald Reagan and 'peace through strength'—possibly justify a lower defense budget than that of President Obama?" Read the rest here.

Who’s doing what today? Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Navy Chief Adm. Jon Greenert and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford go before the Senate Armed Services Committee today to talk FY16 budget requests at 9:30 a.m. … the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hosts Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Brian McKeon to talk U.S. policy in Ukraine at 10 a.m. … the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee will talk the VA’s FY16 and 17 budget requests at 2:30 p.m. (more here) … and the Senate Armed Services returns for a closed door briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Middle East Policy Matt Spence and the Joint Staff’s Col. Mark Visconi at 2:30 p.m.

Americans aren’t loving Obama’s foreign policies, according to a new poll. McClatchy’s David Lightman: President Barack Obama’s efforts against the Islamic State – as well as his entire foreign policy –is deeply unpopular in this country, a new McClatchy-Marist poll found.” More here.

The Concerned Veterans for America have a new video out today that aims to contextualize the U.S. political failures that led to the rise of ISIS—in the hopes of preventing a similar outbreak of unmitigated violence in Afghanistan. That nearly 9-minute clip, here.

Two high-profile responses to the Republican letter to Tehran surfaced last night—the first from Vice President Joe Biden and the second from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Biden noted after serving 36 years in the Senate, the letter from Sen. Tom Cotton—Iraq and Afghanistan Army vet and freshman senator from Arkansas—and company “is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere” and “ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States.” Read Biden’s letter in full, here.

Iran’s Zarif on the letter: “The world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law... I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.” That response in full, here.

Meantime, meet the guy who helped capture Saddam Hussein—and is now a member of Congress—on what all that’s like. The NYT’s Emmarie Huetteman interviews Steve Russell, the Republican from Oklahoma, here.

The error of the Republican letter writers’ ways, in Lawfare, here.

The letter made Page One of the big three.

NYT subhed: “White House Outraged”

WSJ: “GOP Iran Letter Draws Obama Rebuke.”

WaPo subhed: “A bid to kill nuclear deal; Obama derides letter as  push for armed conflict.”

How the pursuit of new war powers against ISIS, as well as the Iran sanctions push, could be affected by the loss of embattled Sen. Bob Menendez, by Defense News’ John Bennett, here.

“Oh my goodness.” A manager of a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis sent a really nutty email that mocked the mental health problems of returning combat veterans. Can folks like these really be seen as just another bad egg? The Indianapolis Star’s Tony Cook via Stripes: “…The email obtained by The Indianapolis Star contains photographs of a toy Christmas elf posing as a patient in what appears to be the hospital's transitional clinic for returning veterans. In one photograph, the elf pleads for Xanax. In another, he hangs himself with an electrical cord.

“The woman who sent the email is Robin Paul, a licensed social worker who manages the hospital's Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic. The clinic provides returning veterans with transition assistance, including mental health and readjustment services.

“When initially asked about the email, Paul responded, "Oh my goodness." She then referred a reporter to the hospital's public affairs department, which emailed The Star a statement on her behalf.” More here.

For guys who are getting out of the military (or even those who are staying in)… who want to know how to dress right, here’ an excellent primer for how to wear clothes like a grown-up civilian, on Buzzfeed, here.

Don't mind that middle-of-the-night buzzing you may have heard in the D.C. region. It's probably just the Secret Service working out ways to knock drones out of the sky. AP's Alicia Caldwell and Josh Lederman, here.

Gen. Marty Dempsey is back in D.C. today after his visit to Baghdad and other places.

AFP’s Dan De Luce, traveling with Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on the challenge posed by Baghdad: “The international coalition fighting Islamic State extremists could be jeopardised if the Baghdad government fails to bridge Iraq's sectarian divide, the US military's top officer warned Monday. Iraq's political leaders have yet to deliver on promises to reach out to the Sunni population and have raised concerns in the region by forging closer ties to Shiite-led Iran, General Martin Dempsey said after spending several hours in Baghdad.

Dempsey, after his stop there: "I come away a bit concerned that it's going to be difficult to sustain the coalition for the rest of the challenge -- which is trans-regional –- unless the government of Iraq can actually form that national unity platform to which they committed." More here.

Iraqi security forces are slowly advancing closer to Tikrit, taking the nearby northern city of Al-Alam while working around the standard ISIS roadside bomb and sniper defenses. Reuters’ this hour, here.

U.S. Naval Forces Africa asked CNA Corporation to recommend how the U.S. can best counter Boko Haram. CNA’s Julia McQuaid and Patricio Asfura-Heim delivered an 88-page reply emphasizing greater assistance to Nigeria’s neighbors Chad, Niger and Cameroon while Abuja gradually works out its conflicts with U.S. policy with respect to the human rights-centric “Leahy Law.” That, here.

Following the death of Canadian special forces Sgt. Andrew Dolrun in Iraq on Friday, the Ottawa government is considering adding more special forces to help in the fight against ISIS. National Post’s David Pugliese and Mark Kennedy, here.

Also: Friday’s friendly fire incident is revealing divergent narratives and possibly conflicting perspectives on battlefield protocol from the Peshmerga and Canada’s Defense Minister Jason Kenney. The CBC with more, here.

Mark Lippert feels “pretty darn good.” The NYT’s Choe Sang-Hun, on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Lippert’s remarks at the hospital in Seoul, here.

The knife attack on Lippert has led to an outpouring of support for Lippert and the U.S., but it’s also fed a backlash: The NYT’s Choe Sang-Hun again: “…the response, led largely by conservative South Koreans, has provoked a backlash, with accusations that the government of President Park Geun-hye and its supporters are ‘worshiping’ America and politicizing the case to discredit their critics.More here.

Remember Turkey’s porous border? It’s still there. The NYT’s Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt, with a Gaziantep, Turkey dateline (Arango): “Under pressure from its allies in the West, Turkey has made it harder for would-be jihadists to slip across the border and join the ranks of the Islamic State group at its base in northern Syria. But it has been unable — or unwilling — to halt the flow as the group...”

“Smugglers from border villages who have long earned a living ferrying pistachios, sugar, cigarettes and fuel across the border say they are compelled by the Islamic State to traffic in jihadists, under the threat of death or the end of their livelihoods. Sometimes they receive a late-night phone call from an ISIS commander inside Syria directing them to receive a recruit at a luxury hotel in this city to escort across the border.

One smuggler named Mustafa told Arango: “Things have become more difficult because Turkey has stricter procedures on the border.”

But, Mustafa told The Times, he always finds a way into Syria, and sometimes Turkish border guards in his village, who know him, look the other way.” Read the rest of this Page Oner, here.

ICYMI: Is Saudi Arabia any less brutal than ISIS? In the Christian Science Monitor, here.

A new U.S. national security threat: Venezuela. The U.S. ordered sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials on Monday, following a similar course of action used against Iran and Syria. Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton: “The White House said the order targeted people whose actions undermined democratic processes or institutions, had committed acts of violence or abuse of human rights, were involved in prohibiting or penalizing freedom of expression, or were government officials involved in public corruption.” That, here.

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro responded by recalling his top diplomat back to Caracas and vowed to pursue additional powers to “fight imperialism.” He also promoted one of the sanctioned individuals, intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Gustavo Gonzalez, to interior minister. The Guardian’s Sibylla Brodzinsky, here.

And in a sign of possibly worsening political fallout from Monday's announcement, AFP this hour reports Cuba just threw its support behind the government in Caracas. 

“Building consensus” toward a “resolution” that is “digestible.” Confused about “General Officer-speak?” Doctrine Man has you covered with this short, nifty primer, here.