One such application was the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) based on NASA/Air Force Research Laboratory-developed WorldWind software. DARPA provided early funding for ATAK through Trans Apps.
ATAK allows Android phone/tablet users to maintain collective situational awareness, coordinate with other users, quickly issue commands, text messages, enemy/friendly locations, and make full “9-line” calls for fire/close-air support. The software and operational logic, which grew out of Trans Apps, influenced the ATAK concept, Evans said.
“These activities at the tactical edge have been offshoots of the systems that led to Trans Apps and RAA. Newer initiatives with tactical handhelds stem from the same tree as well.”
Another branch of that tree is represented by DARPA’s own PCAS (Persistent Close Air Support) system, a fire-support application with both air and ground components, which the Agency began developing in 2012. Like ATAK, PCAS resided on mobile devices, improving situational awareness and automating the process for coordinating close air support. The PCAS ground element was tested on 500 tablets in Afghanistan in 2013, and the combined system was demonstrated with the Marine Corps in 2015.
“The idea was to have something like ATAK on a phone,” Evans said, “and use that for sharing coordinates for strikes and getting that information to the air-support layer.”
Back in Iraq, ISOF forces were already using Android applications (Offline Maps, Google Earth) on mobile phones and tablets to help communicate, conduct reconnaissance and targeting, track their movements, and navigate.
Maj. Eric Roles, a company commander with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, is a DARPA fellow who led the RAA effort. In an essay he co-authored for the National Defense University, he explained that U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Baghdad quickly realized that a program like ATAK combined with the ISOF’s existing hand-held coordination could yield battlefield results while keeping American SOF operators at the required arm’s length from their ISOF partners.