ATAK, HAMMER, and Baofengs – The Bad News

Continuing in our series on communications, I want to get into a situational awareness tool known as ATAK. Now, depending on which version you have, ATAK either stands for Android Tactical Assault Kit or Android Team Awareness Kit. Since probably most people reading this are civilian, you’ve got the second version. ATAK is a pretty complex piece of gear if you take the time to really get into it, but the 30-second description is that ATAK is a tool that allows a user to integrate multiple functions into a single awareness picture. Without ATAK, you might have 4-5 different apps on your phone running mapping, texting, drones, or other functions. ATAK, through the use of plug-ins, allows all of that at once – providing you with a single app with a complete (ish) picture of your space.

Why do I care about this as a civilian? Because ATAK has a lot of applications outside the military realm, with the most obvious being disaster response. Most of us that are entering into preparedness are far more likely to encounter a disaster (most likely natural) than a war if we’re being honest. Think of Hurricane Harvey, Superstorm Sandy, the middle Tennessee floods, tornadoes in the Midwest – there’s no shortage of examples. ATAK can be an invaluable tool if we have it, train with it, and use it correctly.

Random screenshot from ATAK showing some of the available imagery

With all that said, ATAK really isn’t useful if we can’t communicate with it. There are three main ways that ATAK can communicate in the civilian world – cellular/internet, radio, and mesh networks. Because we don’t have access to the nifty comms gear that the military (especially special ops) has, we’re forced to use commercially available gear. For the time being, I think we should disregard cellular/internet, because we need to train as if it won’t be there. That leaves us radios and mesh networks. I’m going to try to cover both of these in this series, starting with radios.

As you can tell from the title, I’ve focused my efforts thus far on integrating ATAK with Baofeng radios. Why is that? Because the Baofeng is the most popular radio out there in the preparedness world right now. I’m not going to say the Baofeng is the best radio, because it’s not. But it is probably the most popular. For that reason, I’d really love to say I’ve figured out how to make ATAK and Baofeng play nicely together.

But as you’ve probably guessed – I haven’t….

The problem

To explain why ATAK and Baofengs hate each other is a little complicated, but I’ll do my best given that I’m not a comms guy or an engineer. Baofengs are analog radios. ATAK is digital and runs on a computer (your phone). To make those two compatible, we have to go old school with a modem. The modem in this case is called HAMMER (Handheld Acoustic Modem for Mobile Exchanges with Radios). If you’re as old as I am, you remember the old dial-up modems and HAMMER makes sense. If you aren’t, HAMMER takes data and converts it to sound to be sent over a cable to your radio via the VOX (voice activation) setting, then over the airwaves, and then converts it back to data on the other end. The problem arises when the radio itself can’t process the sound/data fast enough to make it work. This is the issue we have with the Baofengs.

HAMMER settings within ATAK

HAMMER has a lot of tools within it to customize the interface between the phone (or tablet) and the radio it’s hooked up to. You can add padding to the transmission to ensure the VOX is keyed up, you can calibrate your receiving volume to ensure adequate reception, and you can even set the sample rate for the data transfer over the radio. With a more quality radio, this would probably be more than adequate. However, the lowest sample rate that you can set HAMMER to without it crashing is 4000 Hz. At 3999 Hz, ATAK/HAMMER crashes, consistently. I’ve found this to be true with versions 4.3, 4.4, and 4.5. I can’t get versions 4.1 and 4.2 to run on my phone (a refurbed S10). Based on research on YouTube, GitHub, Reddit, and other sources, it looks like the sample rate needs to be in the 2400 Hz range for the Baofengs to adequately transfer the data. As of now, HAMMER is not capable of this and there isn’t a way to upgrade the Baofengs, which means this combination is currently out as an option.

The HAMMER error letting you know the Baofeng isn’t doing its job…


I’m going to keep an eye out for an updated version of HAMMER that will allow the Baofengs to function. In the mean time, I’m going to try experimenting with other radios. I feel it’s important to have the option to run ATAK over commercially available radios in addition to cellular and mesh networks.

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10 thoughts on “ATAK, HAMMER, and Baofengs – The Bad News

  1. I’ve been trying to make the Hammer plugin work for over a year now. Most recently with Yaesu VX8-DR’s and the problem I’m having is that when I turn on the VOX setting, the radio ignores the external mic. connection. I even tried using the programming cables instead of an audio adapter I just can’t get the radio to transmit. I tried with a Yaesu FT-65R but it has a separated two pin mic. and spkr. set up similar to the baofengs, but not as wide, and the pin assignments are opposite. The smaller pin is for mic. on one radio and spkr. on the other. I cant find the correct adapter for it. Its almost like they’re deliberately trying to make this difficult. I did however make the meshtastic atak forwarder work. Now if I could just get 915 Mhz to bounce around corners I’d be great. Very interested in seeing what it takes to make this work.

    1. That might be a question for a guy like Ham Radio Crash Course. I’ve never used Yaesu radios, but I know he has. Don’t know about the particular radio, but I know he likes them.

      Had a guy reply on the YouTube side that you needed a radio that could do 9600 baud to make this work. I intended to try cheap radios first, but I may bump up to an XTS2500 or XTS5000 just to see if a public safety-grade radio will work with it.

      1. HRCC is a great resource. That is where I discovered Meshtastic. The VX8-DR has GPS and does APRS and will do 9600 b, it just wont VOX through the Mic. extension. Im gonna try a Retivis RT3S next. Its a digital dual band HT. Theyre not high end, but if it will transmit VOX through the Mic. extension thats a start at least. I figure if its a digital signal the baud rate wont matter. I also looked at getting a Kenwood two pin Bluetooth adapter for the radio to eliminate the need to run a wire from my phone to the radio, but they cost as much as the radio.

      2. Ah, I understand now. I’ve also looked at the more inexpensive DMR radios, assuming similar to you that the digital signal should be able to pass the data regardless of the baud rate. The hope I had with the Baofengs was that it was easy to get the radio and the cables off Amazon. I’m a little concerned that as I get into less available radios I’m also going to get into less available accessories and while I may solve the problem, it won’t be accessible for your average individual who’s getting into preparedness.

      3. Well, I’ll find out today. I bought two retevis rt3s radios and they are “out for delivery”. If it works, I can send you an email with pics of the set up and links. I got everything either from Amazon or Ebay. I want to say, if I don’t count the cost of the phone or the tablet I’m using, I probably spent $120.00 per radio. I got the radios from ebay and they were discounted, right at $100.00 a piece. The two pin to one pin converters, to go from the radio to the phone were $12.00 on Amazon A USB-C TO 3.5mm adapter for the phone and a 3.5mm aux cord were both between $5.00 to $10.00, both Amazon. If I count the tablet (to be honest this and meshtastic are the only reasons I bought it) It’s a Lenovo 8 inch smart tab. It was another $100 bucks from Amazon. If you bought two tablets the total cost per system is still under $250.00. You and I are thinking the same way. I wanted to build a system that I could prove works and then send an equipment list with purchase links to my friends. Make it as simple as possible.

      4. Stalled again! Retevis didn’t send the programming cables with the radios. So far the radios either transmit constantly as soon as I plug in the phone or tablet, or don’t transmit at all. To be continued.

      5. I know this is getting a little outside the lines for this particular topic, but atak run on a raspberry pi would be cool. You could have the pi in a case sitting next to and wired into the HT. And have it connected wireless to a screen that folds down on the front of your plate carrier.

  2. I made it work! Two retivis rt3s radios with btech aprs cables, using atak, the Hammer plugin for, two Samsung note 9 phones, and a Lenovo m7 tablet.

  3. Kinda really new to this and exploring options for getting ATAK running with a radio. Would the BTECH GMRS-PRO be able to handle ATAK without in-between software seeing as it has data transmission built in?

  4. Just stumbled on this article and reply thread. Good to know that you got the Atak setup to work. And just to clarify, are you are using CivTak form Google Play Store? (vs the govt version). Does your setup support the latest version 4.8.1? I would love to work on this myself and have someone to discuss this with. Can you email me the parts list you have please? lambert at matias dot net. Thanks and 73!

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