Army Tactical Assault Kit Always Adapting for New Era
Unmanned systems, virtual reality and wearables all need data.
The U.S. Army’s infinitely adaptable situational awareness tool created a decade ago continues to find new uses thanks to artificial intelligence, wearable computers, virtual reality, unmanned systems and other cutting-edge technologies.
The Tactical Assault Kit (TAK) is a map-based software application that enables coordination among thousands of users with features such as a position data, chat, mission planning and shared overlays. It is compatible with Android, Apple iOS and Windows. The Air Force, FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Park Police and Special Operations Forces are among the organizations that have customized it for their own purposes.
It has been integrated into 15 Defense Department programs of record, and it has been used for military offenses in Ramadi and Mosul and for homeland security during the last presidential inauguration, the State of the Union address, the United Nations General Assembly, the Republican and Democratic national conventions and a visit from Pope Francis. It is now being adapted to provide COVID-19 data to National Guard units and government agencies.
Additionally, the nonmilitary variant for federal and government agencies, known as the Android Team Awareness Kit-Civilian (ATAK-CIV) application, is available on Google Play and the open-source Standard ATAK Software Development Kit on TAKmaps.com. Army officials describe TAK as an extensible platform, meaning that the TAK Product Center within the Army’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center provides a baseline for others to build upon so that they can tailor it to their own missions. And, it has ignited an explosion of small businesses selling different versions of the system.
But TAK’s best days may be ahead. While the software was originally designed to collect data and provide situational awareness for dismounted soldiers, C5ISR Center officials say that, coupled with artificial intelligence, TAK also has uses for enterprise networks. “We’ve seen the requirements move toward enterprise data management. We see that growing,” says Joshua Sterling, TAK Product Center director.
Furthermore, TAK can be integrated into a host of emerging technologies. “We’ve seen the advent of wearables, virtual reality systems, unmanned vehicles and control systems. Because TAK really is a platform, we’re enabling development on all of those product lines,” Sterling reports. “We’re really seeing a push in wearables, heads up displays, virtual reality and enterprise data management. There’s a lot of future work on the horizon for us.”
TAK can enable command and control of unmanned systems, the researchers say. “The first use case for unmanned systems is the command and control aspect where you’d be able to pilot and receive data from the platform,” Sterling says. “If a user group had a requirement for the Black Hornet, or a commercial unmanned aerial system or a custom unmanned system, they could build a plug-in into ATAK to do command and control, watch the video. There’s been three or four tools developed on top of the ATAK system to provide that command and control function to the unmanned aerial system.”
It also can provide data management capabilities for unmanned systems, including commercial vehicles, Sterling adds. “The second piece to that is once you’re controlling the system, how do I share the data coming from the system? How do I share where the aircraft is, where it’s looking, what it sees, across the network? TAK manages the data, but it offers a window into that world. It’s a visualization tool. That’s how you interact with the data on the network. That’s where you see offices or industry building custom tools on top of it.”
And it likely will be used with the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle. “It’s certainly going to receive information from those platforms that will be provided to soldiers to help them understand what’s happening on the battlefield, to decide and act in situations in a manner that’s going to ensure their mission success,” says Joseph Brooks Jr., director of the C5ISR Center’s Special Products and Prototyping Division.
Brooks adds that the science and technology community is finding a wide array of new uses for TAK. “We’ve got over 120 plugins being developed against ATAK now for customer usages across the Department of Defense and the Army. It is actively being developed by multiple Army offices today inside the science and technology arm and the programs of record.”
The Army’s focus on multidomain operations as part of its modernization plan also likely provides ample opportunities for the software. “TAK is going to play a role in multidomain operations across multiple platforms to include precision fires, networking, soldier lethality and the penetrating environment,” Brooks says. “It’s going to have a wide role across a bunch of the Army’s modernization areas.”