Today's D Brief: Update on Iraq-Syria injuries; 16 killed in Maine; Arms-production roadblocks; Boeing’s big loss; And a bit more.

Update: Twenty-one U.S. personnel across Iraq and Syria “received minor injuries due to drone attacks” more than a week ago, on October 17 and 18, at two different military outposts, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The attacks were initially reported by spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder on October 19, but no estimates of troop injuries were included at that time.

Locations: Al Assad Airbase, Iraq, and Al-Tanf Garrison, Syria. All the injured have since returned to duty, Ryder said in a statement Wednesday. 

For the record, “in some cases service members may report injuries such as [traumatic brain injury] several days after attacks occur, so numbers may change,” Ryder said in his statement. 

New: U.S. troops came under another attack in northeastern Syria on Wednesday, but no one was injured, Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post reported on social media. 

Trend-watching: “U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria have been attacked 19 times in the past eight days, by Iran-directed militants,” Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute pointed out Thursday on social media. Those attacks have been delivered using suicide drones, rockets, and mortars. 

According to Lister, “Iran-directed militants have attacked U.S. bases 103 times since Joe Biden became President,” and nearly 20 percent of those have occurred in the last eight days. 

And as far as what’s publicly known, “the U.S. has responded five times,” to those attacks, Lister said; and all responses have taken place inside Syria, he added. 

Welcome to this Thursday 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 2001, the U.S. Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorized expanded surveillance of domestic and international communications in order to thwart the next terrorist attack after 9/11.

Developing: At least 16 people were killed after shootings at a restaurant and a bowling alley in Maine’s second-largest city of Lewiston Wednesday evening at about 7 p.m. Authorities say they’re still looking for the suspect, who they named as 40-year-old Robert R. Card of Bowdoin, Maine. CNN reported Card is a “certified firearms instructor and a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.”

The death toll “is the largest from a mass shooting this year,” according to the Washington Post

President Joe Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff “until sunset, October 30,” he said in a statement Thursday, calling it a “mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence.” 

More on the suspect: He “recently made threats to carry out a shooting at a National Guard facility in Saco, Maine, and also reported mental health issues, including hearing voices,” CNN reported, citing law enforcement officials. Schools across Lewiston have been canceled, and a shelter-in-place advisory was expanded on Thursday morning to include the city of Bowdoin, according to the New York Times.

The U.S. will work with Japan to build a new interceptor to hit hypersonic missiles, and it will work with Australia to produce Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rockets, Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said Wednesday. “It’s all part of a new strategy to bring partners into the process of manufacturing key weapons to ensure a steady supply of arms in the event of a major conflict, and to deter China from military action,” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports.

LaPlante also said the Defense Department will look to larger and longer-term contracts over multiple years, sometimes called block buying, to help newer, non-traditional defense contractors appease nervous investors and stay in business as well as to persuade established contractors to sustain production of key arms over longer periods. More here

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army’s Pacific corps will invite more allies to join the digital-comms platform that leaders see as key to future coalition operations. The Mission Partner Environment that debuted with Australia will be extended to other exercise partners in the coming year, D1’s Lauren C. Williams reports.

Visiting: China’s top diplomat is in the U.S. this week for talks with officials, including White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The two plan to speak to one another on Friday “as part of ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the relationship,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday. The two last spoke in Malta in September and in Vienna in May.

New: U.S. officials say Google will install undersea internet cables to nations in the Pacific, including Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Reuters reported Wednesday. 

The deal is part of the talks this week between the leaders of Australia and the U.S., which hosted a state dinner Wednesday evening for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his partner, Jodie Haydon. Australia is reportedly pitching in $50 million for the cable project, and the U.S. will help with another $15 million. Read more, here

What’s holding back efforts to boost U.S. weapons production? For one thing, outdated tech at sub-suppliers. “Some smaller firms, as well as government-owned production facilities, are using a range of outdated equipment from fax machines to 1980s-era software, according to MxD, a Defense-Department funded institute charged with increasing digitization in the defense industrial base.” D1’s Sam Skove reports on that and other reasons, here.  

And Boeing just took another huge loss on its Air Force One program. “Boeing lost almost half a billion dollars building new Air Force One presidential jets in the third quarter of 2023, as fixed-price contracts continue to hurt the company,” writes D1’s Audrey Decker. That was the biggest third-quarter loss-maker for Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security business, but hardly the only one.

No. 2 was a satellite program “that cost the company $315 million in the third quarter. The company wouldn’t identify the program, but West said the loss is ‘tied to customer considerations and higher estimated cost to deliver a highly innovative satellite constellation contract that we signed several years ago.”

But: “Boeing has a ‘game plan’ to get its defense business back on track in the next year or two, Boeing Chief Financial Officer Brian West said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call Wednesday, outlining “multiple steps to improve performance, including “lean” initiatives, contracting disciplines, and factory improvements.” Read on, here.

DOD’s five-year budget plan is likely unrealistic, CBO says. That’s not exactly how the Congressional Budget Office puts it in “Long-Term Implications of the 2024 Future Years Defense Program,” its latest look at the Pentagon’s budget. Rather, it says: “The costs of DoD’s plans may be underestimated in the 2024 FYDP. They would be about 3 percent higher from 2024 to 2028 and about 4 percent higher from 2024 to 2038 if the department’s costs grew at rates consistent with CBO’s economic forecast (in areas such as compensation) or historical trends (in areas such as weapons acquisition). To accommodate higher costs,

DoD would need to scale back its plans or request larger budgets than are anticipated in the 2024 FYDP.” Read on, here.

And lastly: a public service announcement about troops and voting. “Service members are legally permitted to vote in their state of residence, even if their military base is elsewhere,” former Marine Jim LaPorta reported Wednesday for the Messenger

Why bring it up? An organization called the “Washington Voter Research Project” is apparently sending threatening—and untrue—messages to service members like Navy Capt. Mehdi Akacem instructing them to register elsewhere. “If I had followed their instructions, I would have essentially purged myself from the Washington voter rolls,” Akacem said. “They laid out the steps to interdict my right to vote.” 

What happened next? Read on, here.