As anyone who's ever deployed with a unit that required an interpreter knows, language barriers make a tough mission tougher. And considering how the U.S. military has treated the locals hired to do interpretation for U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a wonder we're able to recruit 'terps' at all.
So it makes sense the Pentagon would have a need for something that provides real-time translation to the boots on the ground. It should come to no surprise to anyone who regularly shops around on FedBizOpps.gov (the U.S. government's business opportunities site with a name as legit as any Cash4Gold site), to see the Air Force Research Laboratory posting a need for what it calls "human language technologies."
The Air Force wants to conduct research and development in "automatic speech recognition, machine translation, natural language processing, information extraction, information retrieval, text-to-speech synthesis, and other speech and language processing technologies." Maybe the military should just ask Skype how they made theirs.
The Air Force's mind-blowing rationale is that "much of the information needed to effectively understand, anticipate, manage, and operate in the global environment is found in foreign language speech, text, videos, and images" and the military is especially interested in "lesser spoken languages that have high military interest but lack sufficient linguists and automated language processing capabilities."
"The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language." YOU WISH AIR FORCE.
Basically, everything we want to know for via signals intelligence and human intelligence is another language and we don't have enough people who will help us translate it and the Air Force will spend $10 million over a five-year span to develop the technology to do it without human help.