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What kind of wall is impervious to bullets, bombs, drills, or tidal waves?

A language barrier.

The Machine Foreign Language Translate System (MFLTS) is a Solider mounted system that presently works with three different languages -- Iraqi Arabic, Dari and Pashtun -- with more planned for the future. (Image courtesy of US Army/Christine Shea/Released)

The Machine Foreign Language Translate System (MFLTS) is a Solider mounted system that presently works with three different languages — Iraqi Arabic, Dari and Pashtun — with more planned for the future. (Image courtesy of US Army/Christine Shea/Released)

The Army’s Machine Foreign Language Translation System (MFLTS) punches through that barrier by providing language translation capabilities to individual Soldiers.

Traditionally, an Army linguist, military operational specialty (MOS) 35P, trains continuously from six to 16 months in order to achieve the required level of proficiency for a given language. 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.

Enter MFLTS, a software application that provides a language translation capability to individual Soldiers. Since today’s Army is increasingly engaged on a global scale, it is more important than ever that Soldiers must be able to communicate effectively with native, non-English speaking populations. For example, if a Soldier is conducting base security or is working among native populations to gather information via tactical questioning, he or she must be able to communicate with these populations in order to effectively complete the mission.

There are currently two MFLTS applications in use. One provides two-way, real-time speech-to-speech translation, while the other provides text-to-text translation of electronic documents, web pages, and social media. Both versions utilize state-of-the-art machine language translation technology and allow users to select from a number of language “packs,” depending on the languages spoken in their area of operations or on other specific user requirements.

With the mission in mind, the MFLTS program office is also developing a web-based portal that will enable users to download and install the MFLTS application, update the application, or download language packs as needed by the user. In the future, a user will be able to customize his or her MFLTS application by accessing more than 65 individual language packs.

Although MFLTS uses open systems architecture and advanced machine learning technologies inspired by the private sector, it was also specially designed to meet some very unique Army requirements. Soldiers typically operate in environments where connectivity to networks and remote servers is not guaranteed, so MFLTS must be hosted locally on the users’ smartphones and computers. The Army also uses military-unique language content that is not “understood” by commercial language translation products, and must be developed and integrated into the MFLTS in order to support full spectrum military operations.

“Today’s Army routinely supports Joint Interagency, Intergovernmental, Multinational (JIIM) missions where the multinational partners do not speak/write English,” said Tracy Blocker, the MFLTS Representative to Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), explaining the importance of this technology.

“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,” she said.

Deployed Soldiers can also use MFLTS to enhance their situational awareness and understanding via the translation of foreign language documents and social media, such as websites and blog pages.

The MFLTS program will continue to support the Army by developing new language packs and making them available for download by users via the MFLTS Language Portal. This new, deployable and adaptable language translation capability directly enables the Army to ‘Win in a Complex World’ by effectively breaking through the language barriers that the Army will encounter, both today and tomorrow.

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