June 12 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin received a $ 368.2 million contract to build six F-35 fighter planes for the Italian defense ministry, the Pentagon announced.
Italy will receive five F-35As and one F-35B by 2023, according to a statement from the Defense Department on Thursday.
Italy currently has 15 F-35s in service, with plans to acquire 60 more. Lockheed Martin’s facility at Cameri Air Base will undertake the new plane’s final assembly and checkout.
The purchase has been a recent source of contention in Italian politics. In the past year, the minority FiveStar Party has sought a temporary halt to new acquisitions, a call amplified by the costs of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 28, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini confirmed that the purchases will continue.
Last month the 800-foot long Cavour, one of two aircraft carriers in the Italian Navy, completed a two-year, $ 76 million upgrade to accommodate F-35s, regarded as the most advanced fighter planes in the world.
The work included the addition of a layer of heat-resisting material to the carrier’s flight deck, so the downward exhaust of the vertical-takeoff-and-landing F-35B will not melt the deck.
The Cavour will travel to the United States in the summer to receive its first F-35B planes, which currently are in testing phase at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.