Today's D Brief: Ukraine hits Black Sea fleet; Russian casualties pile up; F-35 repair backlog; Iran’s big new drone; And just a bit more.

Ukraine’s military appears to have hit Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea on Friday, one day after the U.S. announced another $325 million in more weapons for Kyiv. Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the attack on Telegram, noting “the historical headquarters building of the Black Sea Fleet was damaged” and at least one soldier was missing after the strikes. 

That strike followed an earlier Ukrainian attack targeting occupied Crimea that involved at least one “Ukrainian guided missile and two aircraft-type UAVs,” Moscow said, and claimed all three of those munitions were shot down by air defense systems in the region. 

Regional reax: According to Russia-watcher Dmitri Alperovitch, writing on social media. “Russian telegram sources are claiming that there were [seven] Storm Shadow [cruise missiles] launched at Crimea, along with one land-attack Neptune [missile] and several drones” in Friday’s attacks. “Some Storm Shadows are claimed to have been shot down, but at least one got through and hit Black Sea Fleet HQs,” Alperovitch said. The Associated Press has a bit more.

Ukrainian ground troops, meanwhile, are reportedly advancing through what’s been described as “the second Russian line of defense” (also referred to as the “Surovikin line”), Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace noted on social media after a Ukrainian soldier detailed some of the recent battlefield movements. George Barros of the Institute for the Study of War called it “the third layer within the tri-layered belt of field fortifications.” 

  • View a map of the advances, via social media, here

The Ukrainians, however, are taking “heavy casualties,” according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Thursday. “We are pushing through,” one Ukrainian officer said, and didn’t complete his thought when he added, “We are destroying them. But the price…” 

Update: Russian losses are piling up. And mobilized troops are lasting an average of just 4.5 months before being killed in Ukraine, according to a joint investigation involving the Conflict Intelligence Team. What’s more, one out of every five mobilized Russians doesn’t last more than eight weeks before they’re killed, according to the findings. 

Also: Half of the Russian troop deaths have hit men between the ages of 30 and 45, which the analysts think reflects the younger troops’ likely being better informed about the conflict and eluding mobilization as a result. (Hat tip @ChrisO_wiki)

Another thing: Russia’s military appears to have reduced its exercise ambitions this calendar year, as scholar Dara Massicot explained in a social media thread Thursday. “What's unusual about all of this,” she said in closing, “is that there was clearly a December-March intention to hold exercises (announcements and public planning sessions with bilateral partners, etc). Sometime after March many of those plans quietly faded away.”

The new U.S. weapons package for Ukraine includes “a second HAWK air defense battery with steady deliveries of additional HAWK and other systems each month through the winter,” President Joe Biden said Thursday while standing beside Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy at the White House. The U.S. is also sending a batch of Avenger air defense systems to defend “Ukraine’s grain silos, hospitals, schools, and power plants… [and] to protect the critical infrastructure that provides heat and light during the coldest and darkest days of the year,” he said. 

And “Next week, the first U.S. Abrams tanks will be delivered to Ukraine,” Biden told reporters Thursday. 

Developing: The U.S. and Ukraine announced joint weapons production plans on Thursday, though much of the plans are in their very early stages and Zelenskyy didn’t offer many details, according to Reuters

But arms production associations from Utah and Arizona announced Ukraine-related programs. Officials from both countries signed agreements Thursday, which for Utah involves “armored vehicle manufacturing; artillery and air defense systems; aerospace equipment; autonomous systems; and more.” Arizona officials, for their part, touted “a 170-page document detailing solutions around munitions development, de-mining, and more” between the state and Ukrainian firms and institutions.

BTW: The Arizona group also said they look “forward to welcoming Ukrainian pilots to train on F-16s at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Ariz., in October.” 

Take a trip to a New Jersey munitions facility that’s helping supply Ukraine. The Telegraph dropped by recently for a report published Friday from the Picatinny Arsenal, in upstate Jersey. View the eight-and-a-half minute video on YouTube, here

Shutdown watch: Ukraine edition. If the U.S. government shuts down at the end of next week, the Pentagon says it will keep its avenues open that are sending weapons to Ukraine, a Defense Department spokesperson told Politico on Thursday. The point had to be communicated because “The House was in chaos on Thursday as a group of GOP hardliners tanked a vote that could have offered a path to fund the government,” as Lara Seligman reported. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, triggering a conflict that would run until August 1988 and eventually kill at least 300,000 troops from both sides combined. 

DOD is propping up F-35 readiness by buying new parts instead of waiting for repairs, GAO says. Just over half of the U.S. military’s F-35s were available for missions earlier this year, thanks in part to a repair backlog that has the program office buying new parts instead of waiting for thousands of broken ones to come back from the shop, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Even DOD officials concede this is unsustainable, and may be eating into funds for the planned new repair facilities that are key to reducing a backlog that now exceeds 10,000 F-35 parts, the report said. 

The U.S. Lightning II fleet had a mission-capable rate of 55 percent in March, far below the program’s goal of 85 to 90 percent, GAO said. That’s down roughly 10 percentage points from 2021 and is about the same as in 2022, according to a February report from the Congressional Budget Office. D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here.

911 call for missing F-35: “We’ve got a pilot in our house, and he says he got ejected,” the caller told the 911 dispatchers in Charleston County, South Carolina, on Sunday. The pilot had bailed out of his Marine Corps F-35B, parachuted into a home’s backyard, and requested an ambulance call to help with his back pain, according to audio released by the county government. NBC News has the story, here. The debris from the jet’s crash was found Monday.

Also: Two F-35A fighter jets landed on a Finnish highway for the first time on Thursday, NATO said. The stretch of road is used to practice landings in the sparsely populated area.

Iran rolls out “longest-range” drone yet. Iranian state media says the Mohajer-10 has an operational range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) and 24 hours, and a top payload of 300 kg (661 pounds). That’s twice the heft of the Mohajer-6 drone, which U.S. officials say is among the drones that Iran is sending Russia for its war against Ukraine. (Reuters)

White House Middle East specialist Brett McGurk met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani Thursday evening. And somewhat surprisingly, the terrorist group ISIS did not come up in the post-meeting readout from the White House. 

On Monday morning at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, U.S. Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Gregory LoGerfo and AEI expert Katherine Zimmerman are slated to explore the U.S. “fight against terror and what we can expect in the coming years.” That begins at 10 a.m. ET. Details here

On the horizon: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is headed to Africa this weekend for several days of talks with officials in Djibouti, Kenya, and Angola, the Defense Department announced Thursday. “During his trip, Secretary Austin will also visit with U.S. military personnel deployed to Djibouti and Kenya, reiterating the Department's appreciation and gratitude for their service and dedication to promoting peace and security in the region,” the Pentagon said. 

From the region:

Lastly today: On Friday afternoon, President Biden is to speak at a gun safety event at the White House’s Rose Garden.

ICYMI: On Wednesday, AP reported that the White House intends to create the first federal office of gun violence prevention.

This just in: The Wall Street Journal describes how AR-15 rifles became a national best-seller. “Private equity turned the AR-15 into a big profit-maker and a charged symbol in the debate over gun rights and mass shootings.” Find that (paywalled) piece here, and have a safe weekend.