By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

WARFIGHTER DATA — Handheld access to information through multiple interfaces is provided by an Android Tactical Assault Kit application being developed by the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory in conjunction with several private contractors. It is linked with an advanced information management platform and is designed to assist various battlefield functions. (Courtesy Air Force Research Laboratory)

MILITARY APP AT FINGERTIPS ¿ An Android Tactical Assault Kit application being developed for the military by the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory in conjunction with several private contractors can be used on battlefields to call in airstrikes, among its capabilities.(Courtesy Air Force Research Laboratory)

Using a smartphone on a battlefield to call for air strikes on precise locations is among the latest military advancements — and it could generate further technology patents for the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory.

The lab and several private-sector contractors including a PAR Government Systems subsidiary in Rome are developing an Android Tactical Assault Kit/ ATAK application that can run on smartphones and Android tablets.

"I believe that the combination of smartphones (‘instant on, small, powerful computers with touch displays and high-resolution, sunlight-readable displays), combined with networked radios (which are also relatively new to the battlefield) are fundamentally transformative for war fighting," Ralph Kohler, a Rome AFRL principal engineer on the project, said by e-mail.

The application including handheld devices "allows users to personally get an up-to-the second understanding of what’s going on around them (reducing ‘the fog of war’), and allows them to remotely access information and control sensors."

The Rome lab has "identified two potentially patentable ideas" relating to the project, said Kohler, "and there may be more." The lab overall has a "patent portfolio" of more than 200 U.S. patents covering various technology developments over the years, he noted. Each company working on the ATAK project "has the ability to file its own patents as well," he added.

The ATAK so far has been used on a handful of special forces missions, according to an article this month that focused on one of the other associated contractors, Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass.

The ATAK program "will be quicker and more intuitive in the heat of battle than calling in airstrike information on a laptop," the article said. The system is designed "so that it would integrate with military radios and networks that are available today," a Draper official said in the article.

Besides targeting for airstrikes, typical ATAK uses could include "net-centric situational awareness with a team collaboration map" such as "air systems, no-strike lists, where you are going," said Kohler.

It also could apply to "file sharing" including photos or videos along with "parachute guidance, sensor interface, sensor control...." among the uses, he added.

AFRL funding for the project was estimated at $5 million by Kohler, while other project funding comes from government-related customers; about six federal civilian staffers work on ATAK, he noted.

He said PAR Government Systems and its Rome Research subsidiary "get a significant portion of that for work done in the local area" including a $500,000 one-year contract last summer.

A PAR spokesman could not be reached for comment.

"Modern Android devices currently provide capabilities that a few years ago were only available on high end PCs....Ruggedized and secure versions suitable for military use...are starting to emerge," according to a document prepared by the Rome lab in conjunction with some contractors.