What is ATAK?

ATAK is the Android Tactical Assault Kit. It is a smartphone geospatial application originally developed for Android devices.

It is sometimes referred to as the Android Team Awareness Kit or Awesome Team Awareness Kit – because there are versions for Windows and iOS as well as Android.

Tactical uses include mission planning, situational awareness (SA), mission execution, and call for fires solutions.

ATAK has been used by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

The Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) being used to send a message from a patrol vehicle.
A security team member uses the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) app to send a message from a patrol vehicle. The tablet-based system provides written communication, pictures, mapping, GPS and data access to team members more quickly than previous methods which relied heavily on radio transmissions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Here’s a video that describes the uses of ATAK, and shows some of the tactical and non-tactical uses:

What can ATAK do?

ATAK is mean to be used with networks (cellular, Wifi, or mesh network tactical radios.)

It enables sharing/presentation of voice, text chat, video, pictures, and an interactive, layered, shared, moving map, plus many other niche data types for the tactical user. The application’s human interface intent is to provide warfighters with an understanding of what is going on around them (also known as Situation Awareness.)

ATAK can utilize all the sensors built in to your smartphone – altimeter, barometer, compass – and of course GPS as well.

Basic functions available in both the civilian and military version include:

  • Online and offline mapping (most standard formats) with a fast rendering engine
  • Web Browser – with support for JavaScript
  • Collaborative mapping, including points, drawings, locations of interest, KML, maps
  • Location marking, sharing, history
  • Chat, file sharing, photo sharing, video sharing, streaming
  • Navigation (walking/hiking, driving, also useful for limited flying)
  • Altitude profiling between locations, routes with DTED and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM)
  • Cell phone, Wi-Fi, civilian radio controls, interface
  • Skydiving tool (w/winds for better prediction)
  • Hunting, Fishing, Ornithology, Wildlife Site Survey

Military unique capabilities (for military customers only) include:

  • Site Survey Tool
  • Targeting
  • Mensuration (precise geo-location)
  • Runway Survey Tools
  • Military radio controls, messages, interface
  • ATAK being used in a team jump exercise.
    A Marine with a Force Reconnaissance Company examines his Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) device on the aircraft before the team jumps. The Marine shown in the photo is the team leader and is tracking his team and the drop zone position.

    One of the most important features is providing a friendly force tracker.

    Team leaders can quickly determine where their team members are by viewing their locations on ATAK devices.

    They can also re-direct those team members to new objectives easily.

    Note that ATAK doesn’t do instant voice communications quite as well as a boom mic, radio and PTT switch- so in most situations you still need some sort of tactical radio comms setup.

    After all, you can’t be futzing around with a delicate smartphone while bullets are flying.

    But, that’s OK – because it offers so much more.

    Who can use ATAK?

    ATAK was originally developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in an “open source” fashion.

    The technology can be licensed by companies that wish to expand the capabilities of the software – for military or civilian purposes.

    This video addresses the process by which ATAK was created – and the licensing:

    MAGTF Common Handheld (MCH)

    The U.S. Marine Corps is also fielding a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Common Handheld device (or MCH) that is available in a smartphone and tablet form factor.

    This device appears to be used with some version of ATAK.

    MAGTF Common Handheld in use to direct machine gun fire
    A U.S. Marine with Marine Rotational Force-Europe 18.1 uses a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Common Handheld to direct machine gun fire during a platoon-supported attack range at Giskas, Norway, Aug. 7, 2018. The MCH enables Marines to relay messages and locations to other users in a manner similar to text messaging. The tablet’s capabilities will augment previous methods of radio contact, allowing quieter and more efficient long-distance communication. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gloria Lepko/Released)

    The smartphone device can be wrist mounted, or on a plate carrier.

    What is CivTAK?

    Previously, there was a civilian version of the ATAK app called CivTak or Civ-Tak that was freely available.

    It appears that is no longer the case, as the previous download links do not work.

    Distribution may be limited to US government employees and companies who have been accepted for licensing via the Techlink portal.

    Mesh Net Radios

    ATAK uses inexpensive off-the-shelf mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets. (But these are usually protected in ruggedized, milspec phone cases.)

    These devices use short range networking (WiFi, Bluetooth) and public cellular communication networks that may not be available in the area of operations (such as in the wilderness.)

    Through the use of special hardware, these devices can also use mesh network radios and other tactical radios.

    This offers an “off-grid” communications capability that is both secure and high performance.

    The Nett Warrior program of the U.S. Army is developing a capability using Rifleman radios and consumer class smartphones (running the ATAK software.)

    But, mesh network devices are available on the commercial market as well. One such device is the goTenna Pro X.

    goTenna Pro X - mesh network radio for smartphones.
    goTenna Pro X – A mesh network radio for smartphones.

    The Pro X is a digital tactical radio (5W VHF/UHF output) that is very small and made to work with smartphones.

    It is meant for “off-grid” solutions – meaning it does not rely on existing radio towers, repeaters, or base stations.

    It has mesh networking features which means the radios can communicate amongst each other.

    In effect, each device is a “relay”. This is what gives it the ability to provide a radio network in any location.

    Typical radio range is 4 miles point-to-point range.

    Communications are encrypted using AES 256 PKI.

    Battery life is up to 30 hours, and the device weighs less than 3 ounces.

    And that’s one of the amazing things about ATAK – consumer electronics have become very, very small – why lug around a dedicated handheld GPS that does a fraction of what ATAK can do on your phone?

    ATAK in use at an security operations center.
    The ATAK tablet-based system provides written communication, pictures, mapping, GPS and data access to soldiers more quickly than previous methods which relied heavily on radio transmissions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

    ATAK – In Summary

    ATAK is a “tactical” smartphone application.

    It enables robust real-time sharing of geospatial information – and communications.

    It is an excellent tool for attaining Situational Awareness (SA) in a variety of situations.

    JTACs using ATAK with IR Stobes mounted on their helmets
    U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) train to coordinate close air support. Note they appear to be using an Android smartphone – probably running ATAK or some version of it. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

    References

    Android Tactical Assault Kit (Wikipedia)

    Nett Warrior Map Engine Trade Study Report

    goTenna Pro X tactical radio product specs

    Nett Warrior Overview

    Handheld tablet improves situational awareness

    The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

    Android Tactical Assault Kit  - ATAK video thumbnail.

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