Iraqi, Arabic and Pashto translation software now on soldier mobile devices

The Army’s Machine Foreign Language Translation System (MFLTS) software for Iraqi, Arabic and Pashto will soon be accessible on a large scale via Android smartphones and Windows laptops through a $4 million contract that Raytheon BBN Technologies recently captured.

This is the first widespread fielding of Iraqi, Arabic and Pashto translation software, according to Raytheon. The MFLTS software will be able to translate speech, as well as scan and translate documents. It is available specifically for android devices and laptops running the Windows operating system.

The mobile and portable MFLTS software configurations are compatible with the Army Gold Master and Nett Warrior software configurations, respectively. According to a previous Defense Systems report, Army Gold Master is the standardized application image configuration for the Unified Master Gold Disk operating system. It facilitates text-to-text and speech-to-speech translation.

Nett Warrior technology resembles a cell phone and gave soldiers handheld network access for the MFLTS software that is now also available through an android smartphone.

A third configuration is web-enabled and facilitates text-to-text translation. It is compatible with the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A), an integrated and widespread battlespace intelligence system.

The MFLTS has three software program components: machine translation, automatic speech recognition, and optical character reading, according to the Army’s MFLTS information page. Translation software uses stored dictionary and sentence-structure data, in this case for Iraqi Arabic and Pashto, to translate word meanings and sentence configurations into English.

The software must be able to recognize different sentence structures within the foreign language, recognize parts of speech, and overcome lingual anomalies in order to deliver the same meanings in another language.

According to industry developers, machine translation software is what is known as a “gisting” software app, meaning that it can translate words and some meanings, but not as accurately as a human translator.

Indeed, the Army’s statements on the MFLTS emphasize that it does not serve as a replacement for human translators. Rather, it can act as a check on their accuracy or a rapid, short notice translation tool.

"Giving [our military] the tools to converse fluently, exchange information, and understand printed material helps them accomplish their missions," said Martha Lillie, Manager of the MFLTS program at Raytheon.

The MFLTS program began in 2011. It uses open architecture and is an incrementally deployed program.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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