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Air Force aims to hasten foreign military sales process

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- In remarks at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center in New York Aug. 17, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James outlined the Air Force’s multifaceted approach to expedite the service’s portion of the foreign military sales process.

Last year, James directed secretary of the Air Force International Affairs to examine how to streamline the FMS process, particularly in case development and contracting.

A dual-signature memorandum from James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein directed acquisition and international affairs communities to implement a number of new initiatives.

“We found the majority of cases are developed in under 90 days, but we could still work to improve the requirements development process for complex cases,” James said.

Since building international partner air force capabilities is important to both mitigate U.S. Air Force operational risk and benefit its defense industrial base, the secretary has reached out throughout 2015 to hear and heed feedback in multiple nations, including appearances at the Paris and Dubai air shows. In addition, Goldfein received similar feedback during the recent Royal International Air Tattoo in England.

“Secretary James and I have heard from both industry and partner nations about the desire that we speed up the process; we certainly take it to heart. But it's important to remember that in the United States, it's an interagency process,” Goldfein explained. “We have our part of it in the Air Force and pride ourselves on being great advocates within the rest of government to try to get these things moving because we appreciate the importance of these partnerships day in and day out.”

According to James, the first challenge they will address follows the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s lead to establish a new and more extensive training program to prepare security cooperation officers more fully before going overseas.

The Air Force will better connect the Air Force Life Cycle Management, the Institute of Security Cooperation Studies, and the Defense Acquisition University to develop a new FMS curriculum.

“We’re going to establish and deliver an FMS training program for program offices, international partners and U.S. industry, which leverages best practices and better connects the major stakeholders of FMS, while linking these efforts with our professional military education institutions,” James said.

As such, James said the second step will be to establish a new, service-specific oversight program to select and oversee the deliberate development of security cooperation officers involved in FMS, which has an annual portfolio of nearly $10 billion.

“We're going to better prepare these officers for FMS planning responsibilities during their overseas tour, which includes better training on the time-consuming but critical process of helping the foreign partner define their defense requirements,” she said.

James acknowledged that the inability to speak directly with the partner on their requirements hampers the Air Force’s ability to generate a valid request needed to adequately begin the acquisition process. “We need to ensure our Airmen have the training and skills to set them up for success in the international environment,” she said.

Within the acquisition realm, the secretary said the Air Force plans to implement requirement classifications, specifically in the more challenging FMS cases, labeling them Category C, or “complex.” And, she added, these cases -- often involving major weapons systems sales such as the C-17 Globemaster III or F-16 Fighting Falcon with technological, political, and financial complexities -- are ones she and Goldfein hear about most frequently on air show ramps in United Arab Emirates, France and England.

“We’ve challenged our acquisitions team to achieve a 10 percent timeline reduction on these cases by the end of 2017,” James noted. “We’re going to try to cut a month from the time the Air Force initially receives a partner’s request for a complex system to the time we can provide them a valid letter of offer and acceptance to purchase it.”

James has also charged service officials to expand FMS program reporting so she and the chief of staff can better assess portfolio performance, including details of complex cases having trouble getting to the LOA and ongoing cases in which contracts are unable to get to the finish line. “This review will shed light on the causes, and potential fixes, for industry or partner frustration,” she said.

Ultimately, James emphasized that the Air Force used a “very deliberate process” to ensure the FMS program review was correct and thorough, with independent reviews at different levels within the Defense Department, to include a legal review.

“We need to redouble our efforts and get the message delivered back home that it is important to give much more quick consideration if at all possible, but always guarding our most critical technologies,” she said. “We can't ever let that go.”

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