The US Army has never been really big on air defense. This is mostly because the USAF has been really good at establishing and maintaining air superiority. However, in the 80s, the US Army decided to stop taking this for granted. They made the excellent Stinger MANPADS and the exceptional Patriot long range missile system. There’s a gap between these two systems, and to fill it, they collaborated with Canada on ADATS. This system entered Canadian service in 1989, but the US Army version ended up going overbudget and was cancelled1 as a part of those early-90s defense cuts that I love to hate. Let’s take a look at the system and see if it was any good.
The ADATS missile is a short-range system. It’s 2.05 meters long, 152mm in diameter, and has a finspan of 50cm. It weighs 51 kg. It’s capable of a top speed of Mach 3 and has a range of about 10 km. These numbers are similar to those of Tor, though Tor is rather larger and has a bit more range. In terms of tasking, both missiles have a similar primary role and guidance mechanism. Tor is radio command guided, but ADATS is laser beam riding. Similar guidance principles, different methods. Interestingly, ADATS makes more use of electro-optical targeting systems. Like TOR, it has a 3D air search radar with a range of 25 km that can track 10 targets simultaneously. ADATS uses an infrared imager to select targets and engage them. Tor has an electro-optical system as well, but it’s more or less a backup; normally Tor uses an engagement radar.
So Tor has better range, and ADATS can operate in “low profile” mode a bit better, since it’s less radar focused. The more obvious difference can be seen by looking at the warhead, or expanding the acronym. ADATS stats for Air Defense Anti Tank System, and it has a curious warhead that combines a fragmentation effect with a shaped charge effect. I’m honestly not sure why they did this–it adds a bunch of cost and gives a capability that, while cool, doesn’t seem to be prima facie useful all that often. Also, given how much armor MBTs tend to carry, I’m not sure how effective it would be on the off chance an enemy tank platoon stumbles upon a SHORAD unit. It seems like it would be easier to just issue some Javelin missiles to the air defense units for close-in protection. Or just have some regular Bradleys handy.
I’m also a little curious as to what the dual-effect warhead added to the cost of both the project and to the costs of the individual missiles themselves. Again, a simple fragmentation warhead seems like it would have helped a lot in terms of costs, but I can’t do a counterfactual comparison.
Which brings us to the verdict. This is hard. On the one hand, ADATS is a pretty cool system. On the other, I can’t help but think that a simpler, antiaircraft only system makes more sense. Plus, it’s currently competing with things like SL-AMRAAM, which near as I can reckon is roughly the same cost and provides proven kinematics, better range, and a fancy active seeker. SL-AMRAAM in the Bradley-ADATS vehicle/turret unit would be pretty cool though. There’s probably some cool wargaming one could do to see which guidance system would be more effective.
Verdict: Referred back to Ordnance Board for further analysis.2
1.) Why the Canadians got theirs but we didn’t is beyond me. Seems if it could enter Canadian service, the missile should have been fine. Yes, the Canadians integrated it on an M113, but putting that turret assembly on a Bradley hull isn’t too hard.
2.) See? I don’t always approve these.