The Pentagon has authorized the release of $2.2 billion to buy six conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A Lightning IIs for the Air Force, with provisional approval to purchase six short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs for the Marine Corps following a senior leadership review and the inaugural flight of that variant, according to Lockheed Martin [LMT].

The 12 aircraft will be built in the second phase of F-35 low-rate initial production (LRIP 2), the company said.

The $2.2 billion contract authorization comes after the Defense Acquisition Board’s recommendation to release the funds and proceed with production, Lockheed Martin said.

“We welcome the board’s decision and their vote of confidence in the F-35 program,” Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager said. “We’re seeing excellent progress on our production line, with 17 preproduction aircraft in assembly flow, the first two production-model F-35s already under way and unprecedented assembly quality across the board.”

Long-lead funds of $197 million for LRIP 3 were released on May 14 for at least 18 additional F-35s. The LRIP I contract for the first two F-35A production aircraft was finalized and issued in July 2007, according to the company.

The first F-35A test aircraft has completed 40 flights and has exceeded performance and reliability expectations. The inaugural flight of the first F-35B is on schedule for late spring/early summer, Lockheed Martin added.