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​Archived image of F-35A strike fighters in flight. Courtesy photo.

The Pentagon on Friday awarded Lockheed Martin a $4.7 billion contract for the eighth Lot of F-35 strike fighters, the program office announced. The contract covers 43 F-35s of all three variants, including 29 for US services and 14 for five international partners. It also includes $0.5 billion of advanced procurement on the next batch. A “handshake deal” for low-rate initial production Lot 8 was struck last month, but the award marks about a $300 million overall “better deal” for the government than was expected at that time, a program office spokesman said.  The contract represents an average unit cost “approximately 3.5 percent lower than the LRIP 7 contract signed in 2013 and a 57 percent reduction since LRIP 1,” the program office said in a statement.  Not including engines, airframe unit prices were quoted as follows: 19 F-35As for the Air Force, $94.8 million each; Six F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, $102 million each; and four F-35Cs for the Navy, $115.7 million each. The Marine Corps and Navy versions are more complex than the USAF model, which will also be made in larger numbers. The contract is the second one in which the Air Force unit price for the fifth generation fighter came in under $100 million, making it comparable in cost to some fourth generation fighters sold in recent years. (See also F-35 LRIP 8 Numbers In.)