By Thomas Duffy / March 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Next Monday the Missile Defense Agency will open its seventh annual conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. The conference runs through March 25. Two longtime critics of the agency's testing plans will serve as bookends on the opening day's agenda: Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is scheduled to give the conference's keynote address at 10 a.m, while Phil Coyle, the former director of the Pentagon's independent testing office, is scheduled to speak at 3:40 in the afternoon. According to an agenda provided to us by MDA, Coyle's topic is “Missile Defense testing -- A Critic's View.”

Coyle was on Capitol Hill last month testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), the subcommittee's chairwoman, will speak at 11:30. Her topic: “Missile Defense Budget/Political Concerns in Congress."

Coyle was blunt in his view of MDA's testing program during the Feb. 25 hearing:

For missile defense, the most challenging technical obstacles are dealing with enemy attacks of two or more missiles with decoys and countermeasures that cab defeat missile defense. So far the testing programs have kicked that can down the road.

He also claimed “a troublesome lack of clarity” in the public discussions of the rationale for and the technical progress made toward an effective U.S. missile defense system, adding:

Quite simply, the public statements made by Pentagon officials and contractors have often been at variance with the facts at hand. It is difficult to separate programmatic spin from genuine progress. In particular, the missile defense program has made claims that have not been demonstrated through realistic testing.

Other speakers during the first day include Gen. Victor Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command; Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, MDA's director; Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, the commander of U.S. Army Space and Missile Command; and Peter Verga, the principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy.