Law EnforcementMilitary

Streamlining collaboration and enhancing mission security for TAK

Earlier this week, it was announced that Mattermost, a leader in secure collaboration for mission-critical work in complex environments, has completed its $1.25 million Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contract. This contract delivers mission-critical ChatOps capabilities for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Tactical Assault Kit (TAK) and ATAK operating systems.

As a new generation of warfighters enlists in our armed forces, giving them access to the same communications and collaboration solutions they’re accustomed to in their civilian lives is increasingly essential. Integrating Mattermost’s solution into TAK ensures that next-generation warfighters have a secure comms capability that offers a user experience similar to what they use daily. Even better, a new partnership with Mattermost and mobile mesh networking solution provider goTenna will ensure that the TAK application and new messaging plug-in are available anywhere, even off-grid.

To learn more about this new contract and how it will support the warfighter, we sat down with Barry Duplantis, vice president and general manager of the North American public sector at Mattermost.

The Last Mile (TLM): Can you tell our readers about Mattermost? What does the company do? How does the military utilize its services and solutions?

Barry Duplantis: Mattermost is a leading open-source collaboration solution for developers and mission-focused teams. We are deployed throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) and government agencies and provide critical collaboration for daily real-world missions.

Our technology spans many different use cases. Some of our customers are tactical, and others are in development and operations (DevOps) centers.

Our solutions are particularly relevant for the military, which relies on real-time collaboration to gain a tactical advantage. Think about how people make decisions; there’s a big difference between staff and operations. Many collaboration tools are well-suited for staff work but need to be suited for operational requirements downrange where, in this case, timely information saves lives.

“THE BOTTOM LINE IS HAVING A SECURE COLLABORATION SOLUTION THAT CREATES A DECISION ADVANTAGE FOR THE WARFIGHTER.” –BARRY DUPLANTIS

People with traditional communication systems think about enterprise, mission, and tactical data. When you’re in a fight, near-peer adversaries can sometimes deprecate mission and enterprise data. Sometimes, tactical data, which Mattermost provides, is the only way warfighters can collaborate or communicate when those other systems get jammed. We serve as a redundant and reliable communications collaboration platform for warfighters downrange.

The bottom line is having a secure collaboration solution creates a decision advantage for the warfighter.

TLM: What makes the Mattermost collaboration platform unique compared to other collaboration platforms?

Barry Duplantis: The Mattermost platform is a purpose-built on-premise solution for secure collaboration and air-gapped environments. Customers can deploy it inside their existing cloud environments and have total control over user roles, access, and data.

Mattermost also allows for secure mobile communications at all impact levels at the edge. This solution will enable people to use their devices to communicate from the edge to the operation center.

TLM: How is the Mattermost collaboration platform more secure than traditional communications tools and capabilities? Why is this additional security essential for the DoD?

Barry Duplantis: Many of our customers conduct missions in dangerous places, requiring specific security for those positions. We provide them a platform to communicate and collaborate securely from the end-user to the server.

Since Mattermost is self-hosted, customers can layer additional protection and custom integrations on top of their existing stacks. This allows customers to meet DoD security requirements while applying extra security to fit their unique architectures.

“MATTERMOST ALSO ALLOWS FOR SECURE MOBILE COMMUNCIATIONS AT ALL IMAPCTS LEVELS AT THE EDGE…”–BARRY DUPLANTIS

Customers can customize data control by making several modifications. For example, users can adjust detailed message notifications from low to high fidelity, and message data that would otherwise be transmitted to third-party push systems can be restricted.

TLM: Why is the AFRL tasking Mattermost with creating a plug-in for TAK? What will the plug-in enable? What new capability or functionality will it enable in TAK?

Barry Duplantis: AFRL was looking for an updated chat functionality for TAK based on open standards. They also wanted native development across Android and iOS.

Mattermost will provide modern chat functionality through the TAK plug-in. Chat functions already exist inside the TAK program, but the Mattermost plug-in will replace those chat applications.

The new plug-in will have a much better user interface (UI) for users within the enterprise and at the edge. This solution is the same commercially off-the-shelf software that people and companies are already using worldwide. Now, the same UI will be used to enhance the user experience for law enforcement and warfighters at the edge.

This new plug-in will make it much easier to push content, such as video, photos, or spot reports. All these can be transmitted through the Mattermost UI on approved mobile devices.

TLM: What role does mobile mesh networking play in enabling the Air Force to utilize TAK and this new plug-in?

Barry Duplantis: Mattermost messages that would otherwise ride on a traditional IP or cell phone network can be used on goTenna’s mobile mesh network.

I believe this new plug-in will enhance communication capabilities at the edge. Consider how people make decisions. How do they communicate situations on the ground, from the edge, and back to the operation center so those in the center can provide the proper support and assistance to those at the edge?

If you can’t communicate, you’re dead. I’m a former Special Operator, and that’s one of the things we constantly repeat. Communication is your lifeline when you’re remote in the middle of nowhere.

If you don’t have comms, there’s nothing you can do. So, our goal is to enhance capabilities to allow law enforcement and warfighters to operate effectively and securely in permissive, semi-permissive, and non-permissive environments.

TLM: Why did you partner with goTenna to provide this program’s mobile mesh networking solution?

Barry Duplantis: goTenna has a wealth of knowledge of tactical communications and proprietary low-bandwidth mesh network protocols.

This partnership gives us an excellent opportunity to develop proof-of-concept functionality for the Mattermost TAK plug-in to transport messages over radio frequency (RF). This will enhance the capabilities within mobile mesh networks compared to traditional networks.

TLM: When this new tactical chat function is enabled, what benefits will it deliver to the warfighter? Why is this something AFRL is trying to enable for its personnel?

Barry Duplantis: We must plan for the next fight with the mindset of today’s warfighters. They live on their mobile devices, use context switching, and snappy and intuitive UIs.

We need to bring that same type of technology to the battlefield.

“ONCE THE PLUG-INS, THEY WILL BE AVAILABLE TO MORE THAN 200,000 TAK USERS, INCLUDING AIR FORCE PERSONNEL, ARMY PERSONNEL, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT.”–BARRY DUPLANTIS

We must ensure we develop technology that supports our warfighters through the technology they’re comfortable using. We must ask: How can we bring the commercial experience to the warfighter in theater?

If you give someone who is used to using a smartphone a clunky device with a convoluted messaging system, that device will often become a paperweight as people look for alternative solutions. So, it’s crucial that the project we have between TAK, Mattermost, and goTenna provides a modern, elegant solution for today’s generation of warfighters.

TLM: What is the status of this new secure tactical chat function? Where is it in the development process? When will it be available for warfighters?

Barry Duplantis: We recently won the award and are working towards proof of concept, development, and deployment within the next 24 months.

Once the plug-ins are developed, they will be available to more than 200,000 TAK users, including Air Force personnel, Army personnel, and law enforcement. The new chat box will be available to tactical and civilian TAK users. All TAK applications will have the Mattermost plug-in and will be serviced by the new UI functionality we provide.

To learn about exciting new solutions for the hyper-enabled operator, click HERE. To learn more about Mattermost’s DoD-approved capabilities, click HERE.

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The Author

Lena Rivera

Lena Rivera

Lena is an Editor and Writer for The Last Mile who contributes to the content strategy for the site and several other online publications. Lena covers a wide range of topics at the intersection of public sector technology and federal government modernization initiatives. Lena has deep experience working in the healthcare and medical field, where she was responsible for translating medical research projects and even hosted a successful medical podcast.

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