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SOF Week 2023: Handheld translation technology breaks the language barrier for operators

10th May 2023 - 16:30 GMT | by Andrew White in Tampa


USSOCOM personnel train and operate alongside partner forces worldwide so overcoming language barriers is a critical capability. (Photo: US DoD)

USSOCOM operators are already using voice and visual translation devices to improve communications and situational awareness in mission-critical scenarios.

US Special Operations Command’s Joint Acquisition Task Force (JATF) is continuing to update its handheld language translation devices in line with emerging demand signals from end users.

According to USSOCOM’s acquisition executive, Jim Smith, the device provides a 'baseline language translation' capability which has been designed in collaboration with the Stanford Research Institute to support SOF operators working with partner forces anywhere in the world.

The device provides the end user with Voice-to-Voice (VTV) and Visual Environment Translation (VET) services as USSOCOM strives to enhance the 'information dominance [of operators] at the edge’.

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‘SOF operators can be trained in language and can be deployed where they might be out of step,' Smith said before suggesting how the technology could support translation services even when personnel are disconnected from communications infrastructure in a contested environment, for example.

Another unintended benefit of the device is that it can be operated in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) and Joint Operations Center, service officials claimed.

Representatives from the JATF also conducted a real-time demonstration of the end user device in front of 2,000 delegates at SOF Week on 9 May. Although plagued with technical issues, the demo did illustrate how the device could read-back sentences in Russian to English and vice versa in VTV mode.

VET services meanwhile allow personnel to quickly read graffiti and signage in near real-time to enhance levels of situation awareness.

'This is the best you can do for a non-native speaker,' Smith argued.

USSOCOM also provided details about future upgrades which included the application of additional languages including Ukrainian, Cantonese/Mandarin and Tagalog.

The end user device is also set to benefit from an integrated augmented reality (AR) capability, JATF director Col Jarrett Matthews added.

'It helps provide forces with insights they might not already have and achieve objectives towards integrated deterrence. This is SOF small teams doing things at the edge which were only thought possible with greater assets,' he said.

According to Matthews, VTV/VET technology is already being used in two separate theatres although he was unable to provide further details due to operational security concerns.

Andrew White


Andrew White

Andrew is a former editor of Digital Battlespace and Unmanned Vehicles magazines. Andrew joined Shephard …

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