The U.S. military has been rolling out pieces of its Machine Foreign Language Translation System (MFLTS) since 2011 and will soon reach full deployment of the platform, which runs on military and commercial devices.
Translation services are crucial for soldiers in the U.S. Army stationed abroad, but interpreters are not always available.
The new system is not designed to replace human translators completely, but it is meant to complement their work and provide assistance to soldiers unable to be accompanied by their own interpreters. Moreover, soldiers can use the software to check the accuracy of their human interpreter's translations.
The translation system currently supports spoken Pashto and Iraqi Arabic and written Modern Standard Arabic, and the Army is considering adding Dari, a Persian language spoken in Afghanistan, and Sorani Kurdish.
MFLTS comes pre-loaded with common phrases and questions that soldiers can play to communicate with locals, and soldiers rely on the machine translator to understand the reply to their automated questions.
MFLTS product director Michael Beaulieu says the application fills an important communication gap. "If you can't talk to the people who you are trying to win the hearts and minds of, it is kind of hard to win a counterinsurgency," he notes.
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