Assad losing turf to Nusra in coastal stronghold; US Marine fire mission, by the numbers; How the F-35 will go to war with China; Weekend travel security advice from the pros; And a bit more.

The Assad regime just lost territory and possibly one more of its pilots to the bloody tug-o-war in Syria. “Insurgents seized a strategic town from Syrian government forces and their allies in the western coastal province of Latakia on Friday, a monitoring group and the rebels said, in a rare advance for them in the area,” Reuters reports. “The Syrian government forces had captured Kansaba in February, part of a wider advance in Latakia's northern countryside at the time, backed by Russian air power.”

The usual suspects: “The al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front was among the groups that retook Kansaba, which had previously been an important base for the insurgents. The town overlooks much of the mountainous Jabal Akrad area close to the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.” NF released an online statement announcing the capture, along with a few tanks and artillery guns.

Not the only Nusra activity going on today: “Further to the northeast, in Aleppo province, Nusra Front and other Islamist insurgents have recently launched heavy attacks against government forces and their allies, including Iranian troops and Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah fighters.” More here.

About that pilot: “A Syrian warplane crashed northeast of Damascus on Friday and its pilot was captured by rebels in the area,” Reuters again reports. “Syrian state media said the crash was caused by a technical fault and a search was under way for the pilot, who had ejected. Insurgents said the plane had been shot down, but did not say what weaponry was used.”

The self-alleged culprits: “A spokesman for Jaish al-Islam rebels, who control territory on the Syrian capital's eastern and northeastern outskirts, circulated a photo they said showed the captured pilot.” The whole scene raises long-asked questions about rebels’ capabilities in the air-defense realm—a category of inquiry that was just researched in a fairly exhaustive manner over here just this week.

No big deal, the Pentagon says—but in Iraq, “Marines came under rocket attack several times while manning a firebase in northern Iraq,” Military Times reports off remarks Thursday from Col. Robert Fulford, commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“The firebase did receive indirect fire rocket attacks on numerous occasions over the course of their 60-plus days in the firebase,” Fulford told reporters Thursday.

Their tour, in numbers. Duration: roughly 60 days. Location: the Kara Soar Counter Fire Complex, about 15 miles ISIS. Fire missions: 486. Rounds fired: more than 2,000. Casualties: Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin was killed in an artillery attack on 19 March; eight others were also wounded that day.

“The loss of Staff Sgt. Cardin and the eight additional Marines who were wounded in the attack remains a point of great sadness for our team, but also the response of the team to the attack is a source of great pride as well because there was an immediate counter-battery mission that was executed from Task Force Spartan,” Fulford said. Read the rest, here.

After Istanbul, here’s how airport experts want to protect you at the curbside. The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, and Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, will increase security at some U.S. airports over the July 4 holiday weekend. But the best way DHS could fight this problem for the long term, in addition to more security officers on both sides of the screening line, may be getting more people into advanced screening programs before they even reach the airport — like TSA PreCheck, writes Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker.

In Istanbul, armed guards near the airport entrance helped limit the amount of damage that the terrorists could cause. The terminal features two layers of security with metal detectors for people attempting to enter the departure zone. Guards stationed outside of the airport originally became suspicious of a man they saw wearing a raincoat in the middle of summer. They followed him and saw him meet up with two other men. That’s when the attackers began shooting at the police.

“The terrorist threats have moved away from the planes themselves and have moved into softer targets, which are very, very expensive to protect,” said Sheldon Jacobson, a computer science professor and airport security analyst at the University of Illinois. “What [security services] are now doing is creating more layers of the softer targets.”

Adding security before travelers reach the checkpoint line “creates deterrence as well as some opportunity to spot potential threats before they happen.”

So what are TSA’s opportunities and options here? Read on to find out.

For the first time, key U.S. Air Force officers explained how they’d deploy the stealth F-35 and F-22 in an all-out war with China. “In the fictitious war of 2026 they present, the enemy tries to jam radar and radio signals, allowing only stealthy planes like F-22 and F-35 fighters and B-2 and B-21 bombers to fly safely and strike targets, which are guarded by mobile surface-to-air missiles,” writes Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber. “The Pentagon would spread its fighter jets around the Pacific in small numbers to military and civilian airfields, some as far as 1,000 miles from the battlefield, to prevent enemy ballistic and cruise missiles from delivering a devastating knock-out blow to a base.”

“During the initial days of the conflict, F-35s occasionally return to their bases - only to discover several are heavily damaged from enemy missile attacks,” Maj. Gen. Jeff Harrigian and Col. Max Marosko, the deputy director for air and cyberspace operations at Pacific Air Forces in Hawaii, wrote in a new report published Thursday by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. Those F-35s must divert to civilian airfields. By this time, the F-22 and F-35 won’t need air traffic controllers as their high-tech computers will guide them to runways, even in bad weather.

Weisgerber walks you through where the battle goes from there, right here.

From Defense One

How to slow President Trump from pushing the nuclear button. The reality is that when it comes to nuclear weapons, presidents have almost complete autonomy with essentially no institutional checks and balances. The flight time of a ballistic missile from Russia to Washington is half an hour. With just minutes to make life-and-death decisions, there is no time for interagency meetings, congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, or UN votes. What’s to be done? Ploughshares Fund’s Tom Collina has some ideas over here.

Snag a copy of our newest eBook! Orbital Opportunities & Earthly Entanglements: A Defense One Look at Space. Download this eBook to explore the latest obstacles and trends within the aerospace industry that are impacting defense organizations.

Welcome to the Fourth of July weekend edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1863, the epic Battle of Gettysburg begins. Send your friends this link: And let us know your news:

U.S. sailors spoke too much when the Iranians captured them back in January, an official report released Thursday revealed—among other key findings, including an evidently very poor planning process for the mission.

Quotable line: “I didn't want to start a war with Iran,” one of the nervous boat captains told investigators. Sailors also reportedly gave up passwords to their personal phones and laptops—as well as revealing to Iranian interrogators the top speed of their vessel and that they conduct “presence missions” in the area, all information the U.S. Navy says its sailors are not required to give up while in detention.  

Want to know everything that went wrong that fateful day in January? The Washington Examiner whipped up a minute-by-minute timeline of all that, here.

Control system for new GPS satellites way over budget. Bloomberg reports: “The U.S. Air Force said development costs for Raytheon Co.’s network of ground stations for the newest Global Positioning System satellites are expected to increase more than 25 percent over current estimates, triggering a legal requirement to review whether the program should be canceled.” The control system for the new GPS III satellites, called OCX, breached so-called Nunn-McCurdy Act. More here.

Air Force awards future fighter jet engine contract. Pratt & Whitney and GE each received contracts worth more than $1 billion on Thursday for what is called the Adaptive Engine Transition Program. “The adaptive engine optimizes performance and fuel efficiency across the flight envelope by utilizing a third stream of air to optimize the engine at different flight conditions,” the Air Force said in a statement. “The engines will demonstrate 25 percent improved fuel efficiency, 10 percent increased thrust, and significantly improved thermal management.” The goal is for the new engine to produce 45,000 pounds of thrust.

How much power do existing fighter jet engines produce? Well, the F135, which powers the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter produces 43,000 pounds of thrust. The F-22 Raptor’s two engines each produce 35,000 pounds of thrust. An F-16 engine produces 27,000 pounds of thrust and an F-15C produces 23,450 pounds of thrust from each of two engines.

ICYMI: Can Palantir do for U.S. Army intel software bidding what SpaceX did with the Air Force “sole source” rocket launch contracts? They certainly hope so, and just yesterday Palantir filed a lawsuit in federal court to that end. Defense News’ Jen Judson previewed what’s at stake more than a week ago, over here.

The Pentagon has opened its ranks to transgender troops, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday—and the pushback from at least one key Republican came swiftly. “I believe this policy should be put on hold until the DoD thoroughly answers questions from Congress on how such a change will impact the readiness of our military,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla). A tiny bit more here.

For what it’s worth: The “Pentagon has gone further to support diversity in the past 6 years than the previous 40,” said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Closing out the week: while the U.S. prepares to commemorate its Independence Day on Monday, its British and French comrades are remembering one of the bloodiest battles of the Great War, the Battle of the Somme in northern France. Fighting lasted five months and killed or wounded more than one million people, the BBC reminds us. Revisit the 1916 fight in photos here; or cruise portions of the 15-mile front via the sweeping imagery captured by a camera-equipped drone today right here.