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​Air Force acquisition executive William LaPlante speaks at AFA's Air & Space Conference, Sept. 16, 2014. Staff photo by Kristina L. Parrill

The biggest priority in space at the moment is working on a replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 engine, which powers United Launch Alliance rockets, said Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition William LaPlante. Speaking during AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md., on Sept. 16, LaPlante said the process remains in the infant stages, as the Air Force is still in the middle of a number of risk reduction and information-seeking studies to figure out even “what kind of engine” it wants. “That’s the $64 million question,” he added. When Air Force Space Command released its request for information for potential RD-180 replacements in late august, the command “deliberately” left the requested engine type unrestricted so it could get as much information back from industry as possible, he said. “We’re in the first phase of accelerated learning,” LaPlante said, but the service needs to begin to develop an acquisition strategy as we move into the beginning of Fiscal 2015.