A United States counterterrorism officer wants automated, field-available, Wikipedia-like language translation and societal navigation instruments for operators to use in the field that wouldn’t add much weight to their equipment load.

National Counterterrorism Center Strategic Operational Planning (SOP) Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata said Tuesday deployed elements are still highly dependent on contractor translators and locally-provided escorts. Nagata envisions these Wikipedia-like instruments instantaneously deriving the context of foreign environments, customers and cultures above and beyond the individual interaction operators have with an indigenous element. Wikipedia is a leading open-source Internet encyclopedia.Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

One of the main problems with special operators and new technology is the weight tradeoff decisions they must make. Nagata said any new gadget must be worth carrying if an operator will have to choose between the gadget and water or ammunition.

“I believe if there were technologies available to help the SOF (special operations force) element or operator rapidly understand the environment he’s operating in, in ways that are not available today, he’d be willing to leave a few other things behind,” Nagata told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s (NDIA) Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) conference in North Bethesda, Md.

Nagata said for all the strides the U.S. has made in information sharing, including automated sharing between U.S. elements abroad, it hasn’t broken through to what he called shared awareness and understanding. Information does not automatically lead to understanding, Nagata said, as the U.S. creates a lot of available information but it is a challenge to digest it all.

Nagata envisions the next step in technology solutions enabling the integration of disparate information pieces to create real understanding and comprehension for the operator or the deployed element. This, he said, would take place without distracting operators from the mission at hand or risks they face in the field.

Taking this integration one step further, Nagata envisions the ability to fuse the integration of disparate information pieces with special operators’ access to more traditional forms of intelligence information. This, he said, could become a ubiquitous, always-available degree of strategic understanding for the individual-deployed element that he said is largely denied today.