Exclusive: Odierno’s final plans for Big Army; Ash & Demps’ Iran hearing; Saudis want Patriots; Post-Omar Taliban; Death Star laser; And a bit more.

It was Ash Carter’s turn to defend the Iran deal, so the White House sent him to face Senate Republicans armed and ready—and with some backup. The result was a rare sight yesterday on the Hill: Four cabinet-level secretaries and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testifying at one table. The kicker? Three were not invited. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., made sure to note at the opening of his hearing Wednesday—before the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew—that he didn’t invite the latter three. Instead, they came at the request of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
While the five officials spoke to the military implications of the Iran deal—which Carter testified, “places no limitations on what the Department of Defense can and will do to pursue our defense strategy in the region,” and Dempsey said of the more kinetic alternative(s) to diplomacy, “Military strikes on a sovereign nation is an act of war, but there are things between here and there”—the spat over the witness list speaks to the broader tension between lawmakers and the Obama administration over what the president's critics argue is micromanagement on national security, as Defense One Politics Editor Molly O’Toole explains, here.
Dempsey’s real concern? Other than Iran’s nuclear threat, Dempsey flagged “‘at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,’ including the pursuit of ballistic missile technology, weapons trafficking, the use of surrogates and proxies, the use of naval mines, and undersea activity,” The New York Times reported.
Dempsey’s real feelings about the Iran deal? “I would ask you not to characterize my statement as tepid, nor enthusiastic, but rather pragmatic.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, got his headlines by engineering a testy exchange with Kerry over the semantics of an apology. He turned the debate briefly to a U.S. intelligence estimate that some 500 American troops were killed in Iraq at the hands of Iranian IEDs, Military Times reports. Cruz wants those names released to his fellow SASC members, as well as the family members of those 500 killed. Carter’s terse reply: “Let me look into that and I’ll get back to you, senator.”

ODIERNO EXCLUSIVE: Over the past year, the Army has refined its vision, its operating concept, and its strategy for comprehensive change. Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno explains how they all fit together in "Force 2025 And Beyond: How The Army Is Preparing for the Future,” published today on Defense One.

Saudi Arabia’s response to the Iran deal: a missile shield. The kingdom put in a request for more than $5 billion in 600 Patriot PAC-3 interceptors to defend against Iranian missiles, Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports.
Iran has the largest and most diverse missile program in the Middle East, made up of short-range, long-range, anti-ship and cruise missiles. Further, Weisgerber writes, “Middle Eastern nations have as little as four minutes to act if Iran fires one of these missiles their way.”

Dunford confirmed. After receiving “near universal praise from senators…[with] most of the criticism at his confirmation hearing focused not on him but the White House's national security strategy,” Military Times reported last night that the Senate confirmed Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Now is a great time for peace talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said yesterday after confirming the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar inside Pakistan on April 2013. Problem is, the Taliban just postponed the latest talks scheduled for tomorrow in Pakistan, Reuters reports this morning. The Taliban appear to have been caught flat-footed with the news about Omar, with retired U.S. Amb. James Cunningham telling The Daily Beast their silence on the issue Wednesday “indicates they don’t know how to deal with the news.”
The White House response: Reports of Omar’s death are “credible,” though Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz refused to get into the details of how he’s believed to have died, though the where—a hospital in Pakistan—is fairly well agreed upon, NYT reports.
So who now rises (or has already risen) to the top? “Several names have been mentioned as the most likely replacements for Omar,” according to the Washington Post. “Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, his longtime deputy and close aide; Abdul Ghani Baradar, another former top aide to Omar who was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 but released in 2013; and Omar’s son Yacub, a recent Islamic seminary graduate who is in his mid-20s.”
What next? The Taliban released two separate statements on Wednesday suggesting something of a PR scramble is taking place. The group already has become fragmented Islamic State wannabes across portions of the country. The first statement rejected peace talks with Kabul that leave out the group’s Qatar office, the Wall Street Journal reports. “A second official statement Thursday said that a key ‘condition for peace is the free will and consent of the conflicting parties. If coercion and foreign pressures are behind it then it could not be acceptable.’”
The Omar-less Taliban continue to gain ground in southern Helmand province, taking full control of Nawzad district after three days of heavy fighting, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported Wednesday.

From Defense One

Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been an Eagle Scout, a young Republican, a CIA recruit, an Air Force officer, and director of the CIA. Now after his work integrating “two of the great bastions of macho American traditional morality—first the U.S. armed forces, and now the Boy Scouts of America,” biographers can add accomplished “gay rights advocate” to the list, the Atlantic’s David Graham explains what you may not have known about the soft-spoken trailblazer.

Man’s twisted dream of firing the Death Star’s planet-exploding weapon draws closer. This week we learned that the world’s most powerful laser is sitting at a Japanese research university some 300 miles west of Tokyo. So how soon can we turn it into a weapon? Tech Editor Patrick Tucker explains the long road ahead, and makes a few stops to compare it to the work of researchers from Germany, DARPA and Lockheed Martin, here.

And now: An upbeat word on autonomous weapons—even as some of the world’s most industrious minds, like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, poo-poo their deadly potential—the systems may actually follow rules much more closely than humans, in effect thinning the fog of war to help make combat more transparent, argues Kelley Sayler of the Center for a New American Security.

Is Ukraine being sold out as, seemingly now more than ever, Washington really needs Moscow’s help on Iran and Syria? Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Brian Whitmore investigates the price America is paying for Russia’s help in some of the biggest issues of our time, right here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Find our subscribe link here. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

The Joint Staff’s emails may have been compromised, and U.S. Cyber Command is investigating the potential security breach of one of its unclassified email systems.
Wanna find out how many times your personal info has been exposed to hackers? NYT has a fun, frightening reminder of the threats we all face in this test, here.
Should the Senate have a select committee on cyber security? Maybe, says Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Or, in his own words: “I’ve been banging around the idea,” McCain said Tuesday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said he intends to focus his panel on cyber issues in the coming months. “[W]hen you look at the areas that cyber impacts in our economy and in our nation, there’s at least six committees that have some kind of oversight responsibilities,” he said.
McCain also raised question about America’s cyber policy: “Is it the United States policy to play pure defense against cyber attacks? Is it the United States policy to launch preemptive attacks when they know that they’re out there surfing the Internet and trying to penetrate. Is it our policy to retaliate? Are the cyber attacks acts of war?”

Across the pond—The Royal Air Force’s second RC-135 Rivet Joint, which the Brits call Air Seeker, will soon deploy to Iraq where it will support Kurdish forces on the ground, U.K. Procurement Minister Philip Dunne said in a meeting with reporters in Washington Tuesday. The RAF’s first Rivet Joint, which has been flying over Iraq and gathering intelligence on ISIS since last year, will return to the U.K. In case you missed it, Defense One’s Weisgerber has more on how Britain is girding for the long fight against Russia and ISIS both, here.

The U.S. has offered Baghdad a staggering 3,000 MRAPs used in Afghanistan. How many have been accepted for Iraq’s ISIS fight? Just 300, with only 15 of them having gone to the Peshmerga, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman writes in this conflicted arm-your-friends report, noting, “This reality means a government may be better off focusing on the equipment it already has and knows how to use instead of embracing newer – and in this case, better – technology.”
Meantime, Kurdish PKK militants killed three Turkish troops in the southeastern province of Sirnak this morning, Ankara says. Turkey responded to the scene with “helicopters and a commando unit” in fighting that continues to rage this hour.
Turkey also released full-color video of airstrikes on PKK positions inside Iraq on Wednesday. You can catch that via Reuters, here.
In case you’re playing catch-up, the BBC has a generous explainer, complete with a Power Point-like slide breaking down who’s fighting whom now that Ankara’s stepped up its fight against the Kurds and ISIS.
And a group of Chechnyan women just scammed ISIS fighters out of mail order brides to the tune of $3,300, The Daily Beast reports in this welcome Thursday diversion.
ICYMI: Israel allegedly jumped in on the airstrike action in Syria on Wednesday, killing at least two pro-Assad fighters along its northern border, WaPo reported.

The U.S. is “militarizing” the South China Sea with its patrols and joint drills, China’s defense ministry said this morning.
This public war of rhetoric follows last week’s comments from the U.S. Pacific Command chief, Adm. Harry Harris, who said at the Aspen Security Forum that Beijing’s vastly expanded reefs look exactly like military bases for fighters, bombers, ships and surveillance.
But China is busy conducting its own drills against notional enemies—namely, NATO ground forces. That bit via the folks at Popular Science, right here.  

Lastly today: For the low, low price of $200k (though the bidding may have rise at any point in the next 13 days, 3 hours and 59 minutes), you can have a Black Hawk helicopter all your own! Start here, at GSA Auctions.