The Pentagon has awarded $901 million to Lockheed Martin to advance work on long-lead items and materials for the first low-rate initial production of five F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, effectively kicking off production for the aircraft which is not slated to begin flight test until this fall. The funds are going toward the conventional take-off and landing air systems for the Air Force version of the fighter. Earlier this year, lawmakers and defense analysts expressed their skepticism over the Pentagon plan to buy before it tests. The work is expected to be complete by January 2010.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.