Advances in acoustic hailing devices, combined with sophisticated developments in language transition software, may change the way Marines interact with local civilian populations and potential human threats. These developments are being guided by the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, Marine Base Quantico. The JNLWD serves as the day-to-day management office for Department of Defense’s Non-Lethal Weapons Program. “The combination of the acoustic hailing devices and the voice translation devices may be key tools in future force protection, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions,” said Kelley Hughes, a spokesperson for JNLWD. “Non-lethal capabilities do not replace lethal force but rather are intended to offer a different capability when lethal force is unsuitable,” she said.
The technology is very sophisticated, but it has a very simple mission: minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage, Hughes said. These tools can be applied to several real life scenarios.
An unknown vehicle races toward a Marine control point in Afghanistan. With the vehicle still more than 300-yards away, the Marines use an acoustic hailing device to amplify the sound of their warnings. Without a translator, the Marines’ communication would be crippled, with potentially tragic results. On this occasion, however, the guards have the voice translation device SQU.ID, developed by Voxtec. The device allows the Marines’ warnings to be translated into Pashto and emitted through the AHD and clearly heard by the driver 300-yards away.
The driver stops, but he still looks agitated and potentially dangerous. But the Marines have the situation well in hand. The AHD cannot only transmit audio, but also receive it from the same distance, and the SQU.ID can translate the driver’s words back into English, so the Marines can resolve the situation at a safe distance. Several acoustic hailing devices and voice translation devices are being fielded by Marines, Hughes said. The Marine Corps’ current acoustic hailing device is the Magnetic Audio Device, developed by HPV Technologies Inc., which is widely used by the Marines in various situations. The powerful performance of these devices is in the design.
“While conventional speakers emit sound like light from a flashlight, our speakers use the whole surface to push sound out like a trampoline,” said Vahan Smidian, the CEO and founder of HPV technology. “We have some devices that can clearly and audibly emit sound for more than a mile.”
The idea for such a powerful device arose from what the “boots on the ground” said they need, Simidian said.
“When you’re at a control point, you can’t shoot until you know the individual’s intent,” Simidian said. “The Marines were saying they needed something that could emit sound a few hundred yards away. That would keep more Marines out of both physical and legal trouble, because now they can clearly warn the individual and hear their purpose or intent for approaching.” The MAD has a powerful magnetic mounting system that can latch itself on virtually every vehicle. The capabilities of these acoustic hailing devices defy logic, Simidian said. “Our system has an option where you can switch the receiver so it doesn’t pick up any ambient sound, but only a human voice,” he said. “There could be someone a mile away and helicopters, tanks and artillery shells dropping in between you and the target and you would only hear their voice.”
“We have developed a new turbo power system, which we’ve tested mounted on a helicopter,” Simidian said. “The Soldiers testing it could hear their target from over a mile away without any interference from the helicopter rotors. It has the capability to project right through strong winds like they weren’t there. Actually, because of how the magnetic speakers work, the rotors of the helicopter help amplify the MAD’s capabilities.”
Voxtec currently provides the Marines with two different voice translation devices. The Phraselator P2 is a one-way translating, hand-held device that is preset with thousands of words and phrases in more than 80 languages. The user only needs to pick the desired language and phrase from a touch screen or through voice recognition.
The SQU.ID SQ.200 is a more tactical, hands-free device that allows the Marine to keep his hand on his weapon at all times while the device can be attached to his flak jacket or weapon. The system has thousands of preset English phrases. The Marine speaks and SQU.ID translates the phrase into the desired language. The new generation of SQU.ID, the SQ.410, come out this fall with greater capabilities.
“The SQU.ID SQ.410 will have all the tactical advantages of its predecessor, but will come with upgrades,” said Clayton Millis, Voxtec managing director of sales and marketing.
“No longer will it be based on preset phrases, but will freely translate all words spoken by the user. The device will also be a two-way translator, so now the user and the target individual can understand each other. Currently we have 12 language pairs, like English to Spanish, for example.”
The technology developed for servicemembers also has a wide use in the civilian world. “We’ve been excited to transition our translation devices for public safety use,” Millis said.