WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is making headway on improved training for officials tasked with facilitating foreign military sales, as well as plans to move its first security cooperation officer through the new process within a year, a top service official told Defense News.

Last year, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced plans to help speed up the FMS process by revamping the selection and training of security cooperation officers, with an emphasis on improving their ability to work with a foreign nation to define its requirements.

"We found that the requests that were coming in, they weren't detailed, so it was this back and forth for months on what they really wanted," Heidi Grant, the Air Force's deputy undersecretary for international affairs, said in an April 11 interview.

"But in their mind, they asked for it a year ago. But if you have the right trained person with the right language skills and skill sets and that wants to be there, we feel like the requirements process from the very beginning is going to be much better."

An Aug. 17, 2016, memo, signed by James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, directed the service's international affairs team, known as SAF/IA, to establish a new oversight program to ensure security cooperation officers get the professional training they need in areas they need. The idea is that those aspiring for security cooperation positions can get extra education in areas such as acquisition or logistics, rather than simply assigning an employee with foreign language skills but no interest in the job.

The Air Force has 168 security cooperation officer billets in 76 countries. Those positions are owned by the regional combatant commanders, not SAF/IA, so Grant's first step is meeting with those leaders to discuss changes to the process and identify billets that need filled, she said.

From there, the service can deliberately train the best person for job — the same way air attaches are chosen, Grant noted. By contrast, the current selection process for security cooperation officers involves combatant commanders reading over the résumés of five or six potential candidates and choosing whomever they feel is most qualified.

It will take about three years to cycle through the 168 billets and fill them with deliberately trained personnel, she said.

"The feedback I got, at least from my first visit at PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command], have really embraced it, and they're excited about our involvement," Grant said, adding that she has trips to U.S. European Command and Africa Command planned.