An Automatic Test System (ATS) includes Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) hardware and its operating software, Test Program Sets (TPS) which include the hardware, software and documentation required to interface with and test individual weapon system component items, and associated software development environments. The term "ATS" also includes on-system automatic diagnostics and testing.

Automatic testing of electronic systems or components is required due to the complexity of modern electronics. In the early days of electronics maintenance, a technician could troubleshoot and repair an electronic system using an analog volt-ohm meter, an oscilloscope and a soldering iron. Today, electronics are very complex, with multi-layer circuit boards densely packed with high-speed digital components that have many different failure modes. Manually testing all components and circuit paths in typical modern systems is virtually impossible.

Automatic Test Systems are used to identify failed components, adjust components to meet specifications, and assure that an item is ready for issue.

DoD has appointed the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development & Acquisition) to serve as the DoD ATS Executive Director to implement policy relative to automatic testing. DoD has designated several automatic test systems as DoD ATS Families. These ATSs are the test systems of choice for all DoD testing needs. Using other than these ATSs or COTS components that meet defined ATS capabilities requires approval by the program's milestone decision authority. The analysis process and tools available to assist the PM in selection of the appropriate ATS to satisfy a particular program's test requirements is covered in the ATS Selection Process Guide.

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