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  SoldierMod Volume 15 - May 2015
Volume 15 Articles

Country flagFuture Food and Radical Rations

SoldierMods' Steve Goodman reports

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There is an old adage that says an army travels on its stomach. When it comes to modernisation programs, field rations may not be as impressive as tactical data links or laser-gun sights, but for successful operations, modernising meals is no less important, and just about as “High Tech.”

MREs. Photo: Rally Point Networks Inc 2012.
MREs. Photo: Rally Point Networks Inc 2012.

If any of our readers have been around long enough to remember C-rations, the science of “food engineering” employed by todays military has created “combat cuisine” that is about as far away from those tin cans filled with unrecognizable gelatinous glop as you can get.

For the U.S. Army that is largely thanks to the Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD) of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, (NSRDEC).

The U.S. military’s first foray into more palatable field rations was the Meals Ready to Eat, or MRE. The team at NSRDEC was responsible for the development and deployment of the MRE.

MRE. Photo: © US Army, by Cydney McFarland.
MRE. Photo: © US Army, by Cydney McFarland.

Forget those dreadful old green tin cans. They have been replaced with streamlined, light-weight brown packages. Tear them open and what will you find? No SPAM here! Instead today’s warfighters are treated to crackers that stay crisp, meals such as lasagna and fajitas that could be warmed up right in a specialized heat pouch that gives off no light or smoke signature, and even name brand snacks and candy bars.

Like many pieces of military tech, MREs have found themselves into the industrial and consumer market, and are now a staple among hikers, hunters and in Emergency Preparedness kits.

The CFD is responsible for fielding the entire spectrum of rations consumed by the armed forces, and not just the MRE, including group rations and assault and special purpose rations.

However, the MRE remains one of NSRDEC’s most significant accomplishments. One of the most innovative advancements about the MRE was the “heat pouch” developed by NSRDEC. The breakthrough meant that for the first time, soldiers could enjoy a hot meal or hot cup of coffee, without fear of their positions being given away by light or smoke.

The pouch was a hallmark of chemical engineering. It uses the natural exothermic reaction of magnesium and water. A bag about the size of post-card containing a small amount of magnesium sits within the plastic lining of the heat pouch. The soldier adds just about an of ounce of water to the inner sleeve, the warming reaction begins, he or she then slides the MRE entrée into the pouch, and in 10 minutes Voilà! A completely flameless hot meal!

Now, working under the auspices of CFD, the Consumer Research Team, or CRT is setting out to shape the next big thing in military menus.

CRT is trying to come up with the next generation of combat rations by using a detailed online questionnaire, directed at current and retired military personnel.

U.S. Navy Capt. Tim Moon, left center, U.S. Marine Sgt. Jeremy Willett of Portland, Ore. Photo: © US Navy.
U.S. Navy Capt. Tim Moon, left center, U.S. Marine Sgt. Jeremy Willett of Portland, Ore.
Photo: © US Navy.

Future General Purpose Operational Ration

The purpose of the questionnaire is to develop the Future General Purpose Operational Ration, (FGPOR) over the next 15 years. According to CRT, that ration can take any shape, and could look and function as different from today’s MREs, as the MRE is from yesterday’s C-rations.

CRT began the process in 2013 with a few focus groups. From there, they developed the questionnaire. According to CRT “a more detailed version of the questionnaire can be completed by Department of Defense personnel whose work involves military field feeding.”

Some of the “out of the box ideas” the CRT has already found, suggested by respondents to the questionnaire, are ways to deliver rations on a “just-in-time” basis so they need not be carried at all, food that can be “3D-printed,” and food that is tailored to the particular operating environment.

Also, most who have participated in the surveys have said they would like to be “better educated” about food and nutrition.

Nutritional Data Base

That desire for soldiers to be more educated about food and food choices is already being answered.

According to the Army News Service, just this past March, NSRDC in cooperation with the Department of Defense’s Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC), launched the combat rations database, or ComRaD. ComRaD provides an online source where warfighters, military dietitians, food service officers and company leaders can learn more about the nutritional value of what is inside MREs and other military rations. The database contains nutrition information about the MRE, First Strike Ration, Meal, Cold Weather, and Food Packet, Long Range Patrol.

Before the launch of the database this information coul

“Military dietitians expressed a need for publicly available nutrition information that could be used to help educate warfighters on how to properly fuel themselves before a mission, during a mission and post mission,” said Julie Smith, senior food technologist with the CFD.

ComRaD is in its early stages and it is expected to evolve over time.

Last Course

Breakthroughs in food science may never be as sexy as some other modernisation programmes, but they are becoming just as important to our warfighters’ ability to get the job done right, as the latest advances in weapons and systems technology.

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