TAK – Tactical Assault Kit – started out as a software product for Android devices called ATAK, developed by US Air Force Research Labs (AFRL). Over time, the product evolved beyond its original design, spanning a greater number of devices, users and applications.
Now, the kit is an impressively agile product, experiencing new enhancements and integrations on a regular basis. Many capabilities are powered by open-source communities which truly makes the software an innovation led by use cases and driven by diverse, collaborative expertise.
It’s likely the TAK kit will continue to see expansion and development in the future, with its successfully evolutionary history a clear showcase for the potential of this solution and an unofficial invitation for organisations to take on new innovation challenges.
Our CBRN team at Riskaware are currently supporting Aeris to develop a plug-in for the military facing TAK product under a Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) contract. It will be focused on integrating a comprehensive dispersion capability which will provide superior, real-time situational intelligence for actors on the ground, and in the field.
A brief history of TAK
ATAK is the Android Tactical Assault Kit, developed by AFRL for Android OS. Using standard symbology, it allowed soldiers to communicate a common operating picture (COP), giving them a consistent map for navigation and situational awareness. The software integrates with various open-source data streams, such as street maps, to create a more comprehensive view. It enables coordination between thousands of users using geospatial features, from mission planning to positioning, plus provides encrypted data communication.
ATAK was delivered as a field-ready device for the US military in 2010, where the phone was deployed with a chest mount for greater usability on the move during missions. It has been tested in countless real-world scenarios. One prominent deployment was in 2017, where ATAK was used by the Department of Homeland Security when responding after Hurricane Harvey devastated the state of Texas. In this scenario, it provided essential support for the coordination and communication of multiple, multi-jurisdictional responder groups.
In a more recent example, ATAK has been adopted by the US Army for land navigation and reconnaissance missions, replacing traditional methods used by the airborne troops. This has streamlined their surveillance processes exponentially and digitalised all planning. Similarly, the British Army has deployed ATAK which has been used as part of NATO’s Enhance Forward Presence.
The core software has since been made available outside of this organisation. It has been adopted across the world for various use cases and applications. Some of the organisations who have added their own capabilities include, The Air Force, FBI, Special Operations Forces, and more, in addition to being integrated into 15 different defence departments for the US military.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for example were integrating ATAK with drones to enable live camera feeds which would stream directly to the devices of ground users, giving them fast and accurate location intelligence.
Additionally, the software has been developed upon and spun out into different product variants, designed for different applications and users, and has even been made available to civilian users with reduced features.
- WebTAK: A browser-based web interface designed to share awareness and intelligence across multiple agencies.
- WinTAK: An application built for Windows OS, available as both a public, civilian version and a military version.
- iTAK: An application built for iPhone OS, rumoured to be in development.
- CivTAK: A version of TAK available to civilian users which is open-standard on Google Play. This is known as CivTAK, Civilian Team Awareness Kit, or ATAK-Civ, Android Team Awareness Kit Civilian. CivTAK is aimed at non-military audiences, including emergency services and US government departments, and is optimised for civilian-oriented use cases such as public safety operations or large-scale disaster response.
All of these versions are purpose-built for their use case but made to have familiar and consistent interfaces and usability. This makes the skills learnt on one product much more transferable so users can seamlessly work with any version. This is especially helpful for transitioning from training scenarios to field work where users may have access to different systems.
An open-source community
TAK is an agile product that has continued to evolve since it was originally created. The diversity of the product has been accentuated by its open-source abilities, allowing users to write novel software plug-ins that represent specific capabilities as additions to the core TAK offering.
The US DoD have contributed to the solution with their own plug-ins, including the CB dispersion modelling plug-in DTRA created for ATAK. This plug-in acted as a compact, and reduced, version of their Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability (HPAC).
It additionally integrated intuitive route planning software to deliver tailored CBRN hazard mapping capability. This would allow users to navigate safely and efficiently during a hazardous incident where certain contaminated areas may need avoided.
Users can also integrate high resolution data and multiple data streams into the centralised, open-source TAK server. This allows users to enhance or alter the data available through TAK, for example to support targeted training scenarios, where users can run their data through the software to gain insight in advance of practical training.
Riskaware’s TAK development
Working under Aeris, the Riskaware team is creating a more comprehensive version of the HPAC dispersion system to be deployed as a plug-in for WebTAK. The prototype, aiming to provide hazard estimates, location awareness, and mapping intelligence for military users on the ground, is currently under development.
We are excited to see what will come of the TAK suite in future and expect much more to be achieved. We see potential for even more comprehensive versions of TAK to come to light as technology in both the defence and civil sectors becomes more advanced.
Although TAK has come a long way from its inception, there’s plenty more opportunity to add capabilities and integrate the solution with other platforms, tools or devices. Further development could see TAK becoming an even more essential situational awareness tool for CBRN use cases, military teams, and more.