ATAK screenshot

Draper Laboratory-led industry team is currently developing a video whiteboarding capability for the Android Terminal Assault Kit (ATAK), which enables the ground troops to easily call in air support and reduce friendly and civilian casualties during combat operations.

Developed in collaboration with the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Information Directorate, the capability is designed to help soldiers to visualise an area and mark points of interest.

In addition, the capability minimises the requirement for discussion over voice channels in theatre or other situations where graphical designation of points of interest can be quickly accomplished.

Initially developed by Draper under the informal name ‘TacDroid’ in 2010, ATAK can also be used for battlespace awareness, navigation, de-conflicting airspace, and to control unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) fleets, said Draper.

With recent addition of survey and Jumpmaster tools, the application also facilitates rapid building of new landing zones and help paratroopers to plan high altitude, low opening jumps, while tracking each other and supplies as they descend.

Leveraging the Android operating system, ATAK is a mobile computing solution designed for installation in tablets and other lightweight handheld devices that connect with military radios, and are easier to operate and carry than traditional laptops in the battlefield.

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The map-based interface also enables ground and airborne troops to share information and maintain constant situational awareness, by allowing addition of context to raw video feeds, such as labelling buildings as schools or hospitals to protect them against strikes, or designation of pickup points for evacuation.

"The application facilitates rapid building of new landing zones and help paratroopers to plan high altitude, low opening jumps."

The US military previously used GPS receivers to call for air support during initial operations in Afghanistan, before substituting them with rugged laptop computers.

Despite their small size, the laptops are avoided by some soldiers for combat missions as the software is better suited for use in operations centres than warfare.

The ATAK prototype has been used by the US military during multiple live-fire exercises including F16 and A10 aircraft, which confirmed that the airstrikes facilitated by the application successfully neutralised targets with 50% fewer clicks from the users than the laptop-based systems.

Already used by the Special Forces during overseas operations, the application is expected to enter mass deployment in 2014.

Image: An ATAK screen shot shows the video whiteboarding capability that will enable soldiers to visualise an area and mark points of interest. Photo: copyright of The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

Defence Technology