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Pentagon sees cost to buy F-35 up 2 pct; operating cost down 9 pct

WASHINGTON, April 17 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Thursday forecast the cost of developing and buying Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 fighter jet at $398.6 billion, up 2 percent from last year, but said the projected cost to operate and maintain the jets was down about 9 percent.

The total cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program, is now seen at $1.42 trillion, down about 6 percent from $1.50 trillion, including research, development, procurement and operations through 2065.

Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan said the higher acquisition cost was mainly due to postponed orders by the U.S. military and some allies, but said he remained unhappy about higher costs on the plane's engine, which is built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

Bogdan told reporters that growing demand for the new fighter jet would drive procurement costs lower in coming years, citing potential orders from South Korea, Israel, and Singapore.

He said the Pentagon's F-35 program office also continued to work closely with Lockheed and Pratt to drive down the cost of the plane, and said he was urging both companies to start ordering materials from suppliers for several years' production.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Bill Trott)