WASHINGTON — In the next few weeks, the US Air Force plans to roll out changes to its foreign military sales processes in the hopes of speeding up international purchases.
Most of the changes will focus on the "front end" of the process, including improvements to the way the Air Force gathers requirements from a potential customer, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said during a joint interview with Defense News and sister publication Air Force Times.
"Maybe a foreign country doesn't state its requirements in an expansive enough manner, and if we had people better trained on how to work with them in this regard, perhaps those requirements could be [better] shaped," she said Aug. 3. "So I think you can probably suspect there will be some additional education for those that are getting ready to go overseas and who will be working with the allies."
The slow, complicated foreign military sales process — which involves a multitude of government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department and National Security Agency — has often been criticized by government and industry alike, but over the past several months the Air Force in particular has led the charge in crusading for reform.
After the Dubai Airshow last November, James and former Air Force acquisition chief Bill LaPlante complained that the sluggish pace of sales was deterring Middle Eastern customers who want to purchase munitions and other equipment to fight terrorist groups in Syria and Yemen. Those would-be customers had threatened to look elsewhere, including China, if they could not buy from the United States.
At that point, James directed the service's international affairs department and acquisition team to evaluate ways the Air Force could improve its own processes.
"Sometimes we look at the totality of the process and we say: 'Ugh, it's too hard. We can't tackle it.' I said: 'Just look at our piece. Look at our piece and see, what can we do better? What can we do differently?' " she said. "Let's see if, through that analysis, we can figure out a way to speed it up. So that's been ongoing."
The service will unveil additional details on its plan in a week or two, she said.
Progress may not be immediately noticeable, as it will take time for contracting personnel to undergo training and for reforms to take hold, she said. The services also could not tackle parts of the process administered by other agencies like the State Department.
"But once again, you have to start somewhere, so education will be one of the areas that we start," she said. "And there will be more to it as well."