Irma barrels toward Florida; Israel hits Syrian factory; Two A-10s crash; X-37 gets new ride; and just a bit more...

Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to a category 4 storm, which is welcome news. The bad news: “More than 60 percent of households in Puerto Rico were without power,” The New York Times reports as the storm barrels on a path toward south Florida (it’s 450 miles away, as of 8 a.m. EDT). On the island of St. Martin, “an official said 95 percent of the island was destroyed. The Haitian government called for all agencies, stores and banks to shut down as the storm hit. Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that half of Barbuda had been left homeless.” More on the damage from the Washington Post and Miami Herald, here and here, respectively.

Irma’s death toll in the region is at 19 this morning: “nine in the French Caribbean, four in the United States Virgin Islands, three in Puerto Rico, one on the Dutch side of St. Martin, one in Barbuda and one in Anguilla,” the Times reports separately. Right now, Irma is “headed toward the southeastern Bahamas, where 20-foot storm surges are expected.” The expectation now is that the storm cell will reach “heavily populated areas of South Florida on Sunday morning.”

Response/recovery ops update, via the Pentagon: 5,242 National Guard members are on standby in Puerto Rico; another 596 are in the U.S. Virgin Islands; and 8,052 more are available to help in Florida, the Pentagon announced Thursday evening.

Two U.S. Navy ships — the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and FEMA staff embarked — are headed to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, starting today.

Two other ships, the USS Iwo Jima and USS New York, are getting ready for a support call, if needed. And the USS Wasp, “along with U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), are executing patient evacuation operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Also on station: the U.S. Air Force’s “hurricane hunters” of the Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, reported Thursday. Over the last several days, they’ve “flown six missions on their WC-130J in and out of Hurricane Irma.” More on their work, here.

As with Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command is helping direct “urban search and rescue capabilities,” this time in the Caribbean. And the Defense Logistics Agency “is providing generators, fuel, food, water and other life sustaining commodities to first responders and survivors. Specifically, DLA is providing 50,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline and 50,000 gallons of diesel to Warner Robbins AFB, Ga. in support of potential requirements.”

Support bases for NORTHCOM’s operations span Alabama’s Maxwell Air Force Base; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in New Jersey; Virginia’s Fort AP Hill; Moody and Warner Robbins Air Force Bases in Georgia; and “home of the Airborne,” North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. Read more from CNN, which rolled up additional details about the U.S. military response — bulleted near the bottom — over here.

From Defense One

On North Korea, More Missile Defense Is Not the Answer // Tom Z. Collina: Buying more unreliable interceptors would be wasteful and an invitation to disaster.

Speeding up arms exports; Irma bears down on defense firms; Lockheed plots its missile-defense future, and more. // Global Business Brief: Marcus Weisgerber

You Can Protest, But You Can't Hide From Government Facial Recognition (For Much Longer) // Dave Gershgorn: Artificial intelligence is giving rise to unprecedented capabilities for surveillance.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1944: First V-2 attack. Have something you want to share? Email us at (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)

Two A-10s crashed in Nevada. The Air Force hasn’t yet said why the attack jets crashed about 8 p.m. on Wednesday on a training range used by units at Nellis Air Force Base. The pilots, who were attached to the combat-training 57th Wing, ejected safely and were being evaluated at a military hospital.
That incident followed the Tuesday death in Arizona of an Iraqi F-16 pilot attached to the Arizona Air National Guard and participating in a U.S. military training program. Stars & Stripes, here.

X-37B gets a new ride to orbit. The secretish Orbital Test Vehicle went up for the fifth time Tuesday, making its first trip aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 instead of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 9. Here’s the Air Force statement; photos and video are here.
Reminder: The 11-year-old Boeing-made X-37B, sometimes called the Air Force’s space plane, is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform.”

In Syria, Israeli jets struck an alleged chemical weapons plant near the city of Masyaf, in the central part of the country on Thursday, Haaretz reported. The target: the Scientific Researchers Center, “the agency the U.S. describes as Syria's chemical weapons manufacturer.”
What reportedly occurred: “A Syrian military statement said that at 2:40 A.M. Israeli warplanes struck the site from within Lebanese airspace. In a statement, the Syrian army said the Israeli warplanes fired several missiles while in Lebanese air space, and warned of the ‘dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region.’”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, "a military storage camp next to the center was used to store ground-to-ground rockets and that personnel of Iran and its allied Lebanese Hezbollah group had been seen there more than once."
Notes Haaretz: “Lebanese media reported the presence of Israeli aircraft in Lebanese airspace early Thursday, however it is unclear whether it is related to the attack or to the large military drill currently taking place in Israel's north… Israel refused to comment on the reports.” More here, or from The Wall Street Journal, here.  

It’s been more than a week now that ISIS convoy has been stranded in Syria, the Times updates. “Ten days after the 17-bus convoy set off from the Lebanese border, bound for Abu Kamal in Deir al-Zour Province, close to the Iraq border, it remains stuck in the desert near Sukhna, protected by escorts from Hezbollah, nearly 150 miles from its destination. Eleven buses remain while six have turned back since Sunday.” More on the territorial back-and-forth still playing out around the eastern Syrian city, here.

Russian news agency Sputnik distributed a bit of disinformation from Syria on Twitter Thursday. The claim: The U.S. military evacuated 20 ISIS commanders from Deir ez-Zour “in order to use their experience in other directions.” Sputnik even made a Twitter thread on the story that begins, here.

Next week: The House Armed Services committee is holding a hearing on the war against ISIS on Tuesday. Scheduled to speak: Marine Brig. Gen. James Bierman, Director of Middle East Division, Joint Staff J-5, Department of Defense; Christopher Maier, Director, D-ISIS Task Force at the Pentagon; Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; as well as Drs. Kenneth Pollack of American Enterprise Institute and Marc Lynch of George Washington University; and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. More here.

Speaking of Russian disinfo: “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election” is the headline on a New York Times attempt to trace the origin of the strange messages that flooded Facebook and Twitter as the 2016 election drew nearer. Read that, here.

Trump’s DACA order puts 900 troops, recruits, and their units in limbo. A Pentagon spokesman says DoD is “coordinating with the departments of justice and homeland security ‘regarding any impact’ the change will have,” Associated Press reports.
The Washington Post has a closer look at some of those troops, including Zion Dirgantara. “Fluent in Indonesian and English, he enlisted in the Army in March 2016 and swore an oath to defend the United States. He has drilled as a reservist cargo specialist since last September. But Dirgantara’s future in the military and the country now hinges on the ability of Congress to find a way to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.” Read on, here.

Finally this week: A sunny snapshot from Mosul. The city and its residents held a reading festival today. Quite a sight to behold in post-ISIS Iraq, over here. Not sure we need to compare it to the life of Mosul during ISIS reign, which ended in July. But you can review that battle — the U.S. military’s largest in more than a decade — over here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!