Army to receive automatic handheld translators for Arabic and Pashto

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Rachel Diehm/Released)

A subsidiary of Raytheon has been awarded $4 million to provide automatic speech recognition, machine translation, text-to-speech, and optical character recognition software licenses for one year to the Army’s Machine Foreign Language Translation System Program Office.

“Traditionally, an Army linguist, military operational specialty 35P, trains continuously from six to 16 months in order to achieve the required level of proficiency for a given language,” said Michael Doney, the product director for MFLTS last year.  “Skilled linguists, native speakers who serve as interpreters for the Army with MOS 09L, and even language translation contractors are always in short supply — and are typically over-tasked once they are deployed.”

BBN Technologies is conducting the first large scale fielding of the system.

“Our military needs to converse with foreign language speakers and understand the situation around them,” Martha Lillie, Machine Foreign Language Translation System program manager at Raytheon BBN Technologies, said in a press release. “Giving them the tools to converse fluently, exchange information and understand printed material helps them accomplish their missions.”

Soldiers should to be able to converse with Iraqi Arabic and Pashto (Afghanistan) speakers using the Machine Foreign Language Translation System.  The system will be able to be used on handheld Android platforms, Window’s laptops, server-based systems and a major intelligence system used at the battalion level.

The Machine Foreign Language Translation System, or MFLTS, is a Solider mounted system that presently works with three different languages — Iraqi Arabic, Dari and Pashtun — with more planned for the future. (Photo Credit: US Army photo by Christine Shea)

The system should allow soldiers on the ground to have direct 2-way speech-to-speech translation with a mobile platform.

“While it does not replace human linguist support such as interpreters and translators, MFLTS successfully augments and complements that support,” said the Army’s PEO IEW&S office in 2016.  “As a result, warfighters may fully leverage translator and interpreter resources to aid in mission execution.”

The system also allows soldiers to check the accurarcy of the translations being offered by interpreters and translators.

In 2011, the Army began the  Machine Foreign Language Translation System (MFLTS) program to address the large translation needs of the Army in many different environments.

“MFLTS supports the Army’s number one priority – readiness – by providing an automated language translation capability that can be used by deployed Soldiers who have a need to communicate with local foreign language speakers when a human linguist is not available,” said Tracy Blocker, the MFLTS Representative to Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

Soldiers will be able to download the system to via the MFLTS Language Portal.

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