Carter’s messaging blitz; Iran talks in ‘new phase’; CIVCAS in Yemen; US airstrikes on hold in Tikrit?; The officer/enlisted standard shifting?; And a bit more.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is at Syracuse University this morning where he’ll champion a project that helps veterans transition to civilians. He’s hosting a roundtable with members of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to talk “Onward to Opportunity,” an initiative by the Schultz Family Foundation, the Pentagon and Fortune 500 companies to help a veterans and active-duty spouses transition into civilian jobs.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families “has done significant study on the challenge of maintaining an all-volunteer military force during a time of extended conflict and the growing civilian military divide that has resulted,” the official said.

Carter will also speak with Syracuse students from the Journalism and Public Policy schools. DOD will air the discussion live at 10:40 a.m. here.

Carter yesterday said the U.S. supports Arab plans to stand up a transnational military force to combat security problems in the region. “The willingness of the parties there to step up and do more for stability in the Middle East is a good thing," Carter told reporters during a visit to Fort Drum. U.S. military leaders in the region, who met with Carter in Kuwait last month to discuss U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS, believe regional partners should be encouraged to do more, Carter told reporters traveling with him. NBC News has more here.

But the WaPo’s editorial board said that Arab force could further compound problems in the Middle East. “This development may be welcomed by an administration that has sought to extract the United States from Middle East wars. But the Arab initiatives — under-resourced and with questionable objectives — are as likely to compound as resolve the region’s wars, and they ultimately may undermine U.S. interests.” More here.

Targeting the youth: MTV’s Caitlin Abber has more from Carter’s media blitz on the “Force of the Future,” right here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, by Marcus Weisgerber with Ben Watson. Gordon Lubold is off this week so W2 are here through Friday. We’re back in DC after 16 hours in Nashville for the Army Aviation Association of America summit. More on that below.

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Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber spent Monday at the Army Aviation Association of America summit, also known as Quad-A. As expected, Army leaders defended their controversial decision to retire OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and shift Apaches from the National Guard to active duty in exchange for Blackhawks. Many have taken their opinions on the decision to social media.

Col. ‎Thomas von Eschenbach, a Kiowa pilot and capability manager for unmanned aircraft systems at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, put it this way: “If Facebook was around in World War I, you’d be hearing people complain about the demise of the horse cavalry.”

Can new technology help Army aviation “own” bad weather like night vision equipment let them “own the night?” Like the rest of the Pentagon, the Army is looking for new technology to give it an edge on the battlefield of the future. Maj. Gen. Michael Lundy, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, believes technology that allows helicopters to fly in rain, snow, fog and brownouts is the answer. Lundy described the technology as “game changing” several times during speeches Monday. “It’s not just being able to fly, it’s to being able to employ weapons, acquire targets and defeat threats,” he said. More here.

Also at Quad-A: The Army wants two-thirds of troops to be battle ready, Gen. Daniel Allyn, vice chief of staff, told the conference. Army officials at Forces Command and the Pentagon are developing new training model designed to boost readiness. The “sustainable readiness model” will be put in place by 2017, but “you will start to feel its effects before that,” Allyn said.

As has become the norm in recent years, many speakers dedicated portions of their speeches to lobbying against federal budget caps. “The plentiful funding we have enjoyed over the past 13-plus years of war is indeed gone,” Allyn said. “And the greatest threat to our Army’s dominance in the future is the Budget Control Act, which will implement sequestration in October.” Despite losing funding for Army Aviation modernization projects, it wasn’t all gloom and doom: “[E]ven though we’re under that significant fiscal pressure, we’re doing very well on maintaining those critical programs,” Lundy said.

Iran and the P5+1 parties are reportedly spinning the latest delay in nuclear negotiations as a decision to enter a “new phase” targeting June for a breakthrough. AP’s George Jahn and Matthew Lee from Switzerland: “One of the officials said the statement was general in part because differences between the sides remained ahead of a new phase of negotiations toward a comprehensive deal by late June. The second official said other documents will be more technical in nature and will also be made public later in the day…” More, here.

NYT’s Michael Gordon and David Sanger: “The main points that the negotiators have been grappling with include the pace of lifting United Nations sanctions, restriction on the research and development of new types of centrifuges, the length of the agreement and even whether it would be detailed in a public document…

“‘The shipping out of Iran’s uranium stockpile was to be the key administration win in this agreement,’ Representative Ed Royce, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview Monday. ‘It was presumed they were going to win on that point because they were giving in on every other point...’ More here.

WaPo’s Carol Morello: The U.S. has pretty much been the only country showing any kind of urgency with this “midnight Tuesday” deadline. That, here.

For what it’s worth, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows two out of three Americans want to strike a nuclear deal with Iran—and nearly as many are not confident such a deal will last in the long term. More on that, here.

The White House will need more breathing room than a Tuesday accord will allow, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports, here.

It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia is paying close attention to what’s coming out of the Switzerland talks, NYT’s David Kirkpatrick reports: “Even if the proposed deal constrains Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Saudis and their allies note, the pact would do nothing to stop Iran from projecting its influence through such local proxies and conventional arms. Sanctions relief from the deal could even revive the Iranian economy with a flood of new oil revenues.

“A deal will open up the Saudi appetite and the Turkish appetite for more nuclear programs. But for the time being Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its operations to pull the carpet out from underneath the Iranians in our region,” [said Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist and former adviser to the government].

“‘The Americans seem nonchalant about this, like, “This is your sectarian problem, you deal with it,”’ Mr. Khashoggi said. ‘So the Saudis went ahead with this Yemen operation.’” More here—and a bit more on Yemen below.

Also in Switzerland, Iran confirmed that one of its journalists covering the negotiations defected last week. That from RFERL, here.

Meantime, the Pentagon rejects claims from Tehran that a U.S. drone strike near Tikrit last week killed two of its Revolutionary Guards, Al-Jazeera reports, here.

Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed by a Saudi airstrike at a refugee camp in Northern Yemen on Monday. The strike is believed to be the deadliest incident involving civilians since Saudi Arabia started bombing Houthi positions last week, NYT’s Saeed Al-Batati and Rick Gladstone report from Yemen: “The deaths, in the Al-Mazraq camp, came as the Saudi-led Arab military coalition intensified attacks across Yemen, bombing multiple targets including a missile depot in the capital, Sana, that erupted in a nighttime conflagration and sent civilians in a nearby village fleeing the explosions, according to witnesses.” More here.

Video of explosions at that missile depot hit during the airstrikes comes via NBC News over here.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led naval forces blockaded Yemen’s ports, the WSJ reports: “Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the coalition spokesman, told reporters in Riyadh that naval forces were blocking ports to prevent weapons and fighters from bolstering the Houthi ranks.” More on that, here.

In Tikrit, Shia militias are preparing to return to the battlefield on the (unconfirmed) understanding that U.S. airstrikes there will at least temporarily cease. WaPo’s Loveday Morris from Baghdad: “Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with leaders of Iraq’s “popular mobilization units” Sunday night to discuss the ground offensive to reclaim Tikrit from Islamic State militants, his spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said. He also said that a final decision on the strikes had not been reached.

“Any decision to halt the strikes to allow forces dominated by Shiite militiamen to march into Tikrit is likely to rile Washington, which has been wary of being perceived as aiding the Iranian-backed paramilitary groups. It would mean that the airstrikes had essentially been used to ease the militiamen’s path into the city, after their initial offensive stalled two weeks ago.” More here.

The northwestern Syrian city of Idlib—yesterday we incorrectly flagged it as in the east—has fast become the “eye of the storm” for “mostly pro-al-Qaeda factions [reinforcing] the view that Jabhat al-Nusra, the most powerful of these factions, is steadily moving toward establishing its own entity.” Al-Monitor with more on the shifting dynamic there, here.

Beijing’s increasing naval ambition worries Washington about its trustworthiness in the region. WSJ’s Jeremy Page: “Adm. Wu, navy chief since 2006, is one of the architects of China’s maritime expansion, sending ships and submarines deep into the Indian and Pacific oceans, launching China’s first aircraft carrier and overseeing operations to assert control of waters claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations. He also has become China’s point man for cinching closer U.S. military ties, a priority of Chinese President Xi Jinping...

“Privately, though, some Pentagon officials say they are waiting to see if Adm. Wu’s promises, especially on avoiding dangerous sea and air encounters, translate into action. Adm. Wu isn’t scheduled to meet with his U.S. counterpart this year. Asked at a conference this month about what naval exchanges with China were planned in 2015, Adm. Greenert said: ‘Not a lot. Not as much as I would hope.’” More, here.

The Navy is working up a new “Duck drone” that could spy on enemy submarines, Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker reports: “But the Navy Research Lab, or NRL, which is working on a new drone that can both fly and swim, is learning that combining robots for two different purposes is not as easy as nature makes it look... Under its Flimmer program (for “flying swimmer”), the NRL team built a “Test Sub” — basically a submarine with wings —and simply worked around the fact that it was heavier than the typical drone. They took it on at least three test runs, dropping it from a plane at 1,000 feet. The test sub flew well enough…” Read the rest, here.

Very strange and unfortunate scene—though not an episode of suspected terrorism—at Fort Meade yesterday as men dressed as women were reportedly joyriding in a stolen SUV before ramming a gate, drawing fire from guards who killed the driver. WSJ’s Scott Calvert with the rollup there, right here.

Obama yesterday signaled his support for changes to military pay and benefits, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman reports: “But President Obama stopped short of endorsing the 15 specific recommendations that the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission sent to Capitol Hill in January.” More here.

The National Capital Region has no contingency plan in place in the event of a “catastrophic cyber attack,” Chris Castelli reports for InsideCybersecurity, here.

Earlier this month, and for the eighth time since 2003, New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel introduced legislation to reinstitute the draft. Military Times’ Leo Shane III with a bit more on Rangel’s ill-fated, if well-intended proposals: “He's also pushing for a new War Tax Act, mandating that current and future war spending be paid for with new taxes on all income brackets... Every few years, the revived legislation grabs a few Capitol Hill headlines but little serious scrutiny. But there's little hope for either proposal in the Republican-controlled House, and Rangel's draft bills aren't expected to get a significant conversation at the committee level this year. And military leaders repeatedly have shot down the idea…” Read the rest, here.

Truly effective military leadership can be broken down to four mutually supporting behaviors, Armor officer Conrad Brown—who’s also an assistant professor of military science at George Mason U—explains over at Task and Purpose, here.

Has the standard shifted between officer and enlisted? Marine JAG officer Lt. Col. James Weirick asks while mulling the inflated biographical claims of former Commandant of the Marine Corps James F. Amos and recently fired Sergeant Major Kenneth Lovell III, over at the site BlueForceTracker: “The Marine Corps enforcing two different standards of treatment on similar offenses undermines the very core of what it means to be a Marine, regardless of rank.  There must a shared standard for officers and enlisted Marines if commanders are to maintain the required moral authority over their Marines.

“From the boot private to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, all must be held to the same criterion.  The obvious scrapping of the shared standard between officers and enlisted signifies the need for a recalibrating of the military leadership’s moral compass.” More here.