WASHINGTON – U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Feb. 13 she expects an initial report in March detailing the tasks still standing between SpaceX and its long-sought certification to launch national security payloads.

James in January ordered an independent review of the Air Force’s launch vehicle certification process, which has come under fire for the time it is taking to certify SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to compete against United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets for Pentagon launch contracts.

The review is being led by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, a former service chief of staff the Pentagon last tapped in 2007 to investigate the Air Force’s mishandling of six nuclear warheads.

James, speaking Feb. 13 at the Air Force Association conference in Orlando, Florida, said Welch would deliver a report next month detailing SpaceX’s remaining certification tasks.

A second report, on how the Air Force could streamline the process for future new entrants seeking Air Force launch contracts. is expected by mid-May, she said.

The Air Force said in January that Falcon 9 certification, which had been expected by the end of 2014, could take until the middle of 2015

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.