Pentagon says will sign F-35 deal with Lockheed

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 12, 2012 11:01am EST

The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland in a February 22, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Lockheed Martin/Handout

The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-35B test aircraft BF-2 flies with external weapons for the first time over the Atlantic test range at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland in a February 22, 2012 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Lockheed Martin/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department said it will sign a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp on Friday for a fifth group of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, a long-awaited deal that moves forward the most costly weapons program in U.S. history.

The Pentagon also said it expects to reach an agreement soon with Lockheed on early funding for a sixth group of F-35s, a step that could help reduce a potential $1.1 billion liability the weapons maker faced from work it had already done on the jets without a signed contract.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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