UPDATE 2-Turkey to order first two F-35 fighter jets

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ANKARA, May 6 (Reuters) - Turkey has decided to order two F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp, the government said on Tuesday.

It will be the first order of Turkey’s pre-announced plan to purchase 100 F-35 jets for $16 billion, which had been expected to begin next year.

The statement, from Turkey’s undersecretary for state-run defence, said Turkey’s commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme “continues strong as ever.”

“In this context, Turkey continues her forecast of the acquisition of 100 F-35A aircraft as planned and declared previously.”

Lockheed Martin, which has a market capitalisation of more than $52 billion, welcomed the news.

“This decision confirms the value of acquiring a 5th Generation fighter capability and is testimony to the Turkish Government’s confidence in the program,” it said in a statement

The programme, the Pentagon’s most expensive arms development project, is about 70 percent over budget and years behind schedule, having been plagued by technical problems.

Sceptics say it still faces big challenges, including completing the software needed to integrate weapons on the jet. (Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Dasha Afanasieva; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)