Pentagon aims to finalise Lockheed F-35 contract within days (Reuters) - ( 4U5TR4L14 )

UK-LOCKHEED-FIGHTER:Pentagon aims to finalise Lockheed F-35 contract within daysReuters This March 22, 2010 handout image, released May 11, 2011, shows the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas that builds F-35 fighter jets. REUTERS/Fred Clingerman-Lockheed Martin/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon expects to finalize a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp for the sixth and seventh batches of F-35 fighter jets within days, the deputy director of the $ 392 billion (243.8 billion pounds) program said on Wednesday.

Navy Rear Admiral Randy Mahr, the No. 2 official in charge of the F-35 program, said all but two issues had been resolved, and he hoped to get those addressed soon.

“We have a few minute things that we have to finish off there,” Mahr told a small group of reporters. “We just want to get it done.”

He did not identify the two remaining issues.

Mahr said the process of finalizing the agreement for 71 more jets had taken less time than during the previous contract negotiations, but it was still taking longer than the Pentagon would like.

Lockheed and the Pentagon announced an agreement in principle for the 71 next fighter jets on July 30, and had hoped to finalize the details within a month.

The agreement in principle covers 36 jets in a sixth batch, with each warplane to cost about 4 percent less than the previous lot, and 35 jets in a seventh batch, also at a 4 percent discount.

Analysts say the two deals will be worth a combined $ 7 billion.

Lockheed and the Pentagon hope to reach agreement on pricing for an eighth batch of F-35 jets by early next year, he said.

Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said there were 45 jets in the eighth batch, including 16 for five international customers – Britain, Italy, Norway, Japan and Israel.

Rein said Lockheed also aimed to complete the two contracts, as soon as possible.

“We’ll continue to work with the (Joint Program Office) on bringing our final items to closure and believe, as they do, it will take place in the near future,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Ken Wills and Tim Dobbyn)

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