The Air Force will be flexible in its requirements for the next-generation training jet, and along with three other major acquisition programs, provided the loosened requirements translates to major savings, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday.

The service needs to speed up its acquisition program, and do so in a way that will save large amounts of money. To do so, the service is looking to increase its communication with industry, and be more relaxed on requirements for new weapons systems, James said.

"Here's our thinking: By gathering data from a range of sources, it should be possible to identify instances where perhaps small changes in capability could have a very large impact on cost," James said Dec. 15 at the Atlantic Council in Washington. "And this in turn, if we would choose to exercise an option, could mean the Air Force could develop much more affordable weapons systems."

This change in policy, called the Cost Capability Analysis program, has been piloted before, but the service is formalizing the method, and timeline, for talking to contractors about the new weapons systems. The first up: the next generation trainer, which is to replace the service's aging T-38C Talon jets.

The request for proposal, the formal solicitation of offers from contractors that includes requirements for the jet, is expected in about two years, James said. The new Cost Capability Analysis program will be in place then, so the service may not be as strict on just how capable the next trainer will be.

As an example, James talked specifically about the speed of a plane. The Air Force, in a call for proposals, could say that a new jet must be able to fly 500 miles per hour. However, if the Air Force found through the contract selection process that it could save a "significant" amount of money by lowering the required speed to 450 miles per hour, the service could "trade off that little bit of capability" for significant savings.

While the T-X program will be the first to demonstrate this new approach, James identified other upcoming programs that will also go through this effort. The programs are:

-- The long-range standoff weapon, a new weapon to be carried by the next generation bomber.

-- A new targeting pod system.

-- The Space-Based Infrared System, a system of satellites for global monitoring.

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