April 19. 2024. 8:11

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EU looks to fund research of military translation technology

Among a list of diverse defence applications, EU member states are looking to develop a multilingual conversational artificial intelligence for their defence needs, according to a document seen by EURACTIV.

The project is listed in the 2023 draft work programme of the European Defence Fund (EDF), the bloc’s defence research and development programme, which is officially set to be released on 29 March.

The “agile and robust human language technologies for defence” would aim at answering the member states’ armed forces’ needs in transcription, translation and interaction in different languages via an artificial intelligence-powered tool.

“The digitalisation of the battlefield leads to more and more complex user interfaces and to ever-increasing volumes of language data to process,” the draft document states.

As a consequence, “language technologies such as multilingual written or spoken interaction, translation and information retrieval are needed in an increasing number of defence systems”, be it language recognition software, cameras or communication tools such as radios.

This need is especially acute, as the bloc’s member states participate in international or multinational operations around the world, involving several countries and languages, while aiming to have the best communication available to avoid delays or misunderstandings, especially on the field.

Military vs civilian needs

While some civilian technologies are available and “useful in some context”, the European Commission’s draft proposal states, that “progress is still needed to meet the requirements of most military applications”.

Professional military use would require a high level of accuracy, including defence-specific terminology, speedy delivery and confidentiality of the processed data.

Concretely, the researched technologies should therefore “improve in terms of robustness to noisy inputs” which disturb information gathering.

A “robust processing of high-level semantic information” is also needed, the EU’s executive said, as the military needs a high level of accuracy for the quickly delivered data.

Meanwhile, data confidentiality would be a further reason to develop a specific tool that “can not be shared with developers”, the draft proposal points out.

The EU executive also put forward the need for wide coverage in terms of languages available, which would include European languages, “but also languages for which limited data is available”, it said, without specifying which it would consider.

This may involve languages used in the theatres where the EU member states have stationed troops, such as Farsi in Afghanistan, Iraqi Arabic, or local African languages where the bloc operates missions and operations.

Activities to be funded are “generating and integrating knowledge” for the moment but are “not excluding downstream activities eligible for research actions”.

Hypersonic missiles and military bio-fuels

The European Defence Fund’s programme for this year will amount to more than €956 million, covering 14 calls for research projects for over €318 million and 19 calls for development projects reaching €638 million, according to the draft seen by EURACTIV.

Among the other projects listed in the call, the EU executive is set to invest €70 million into hypersonic missile defence.

“The likelihood that this kind of weapon would become a major threat to EU territory in the near future has never been that high in history,” the proposal states, referencing “the recent demonstration of Russian hypersonic missile capabilities”.

“Therefore, the Union urgently needs to reinforce the European technological and industrial capabilities to design, develop and manufacture interceptors,” the draft adds.

The project is already awarded to selected industries – including MBDA, ArianeGroup, Thales – without an open call for proposal, according to the text seen by EURACTIV.

Beyond those, the bloc is also planning on investing in threat surveillance in space and the protection of space assets against directed-energy weapons such as lasers, and collisions between space assets, while developing technologies for better situational awareness and mapping of assets in space.

Making the link to EU’s Green Deal, as the draft proposal adds that other projects would include research on fuel alternatives for defence equipment like jets and vehicles, including on “green technologies, new fuel and synthetic fuel from waste and biofuel”.

Other ideas would address the “recycling of waste of soldier individual equipment such as uniforms, helmets, boots, rucksacks, plastic elements, harnesses, etc.”