NATICK, Mass. -- What kinds of rations might the military be using to feed its warfighters 15 years from now?
Seeking to provide a window into the future of combat feeding, the Consumer Research Team, or CRT, working on behalf of the Combat Feeding Directorate of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, developed an online questionnaire for current and former military members.
A more detailed version of the questionnaire can be completed by Department of Defense personnel whose work involves military field feeding.
"This is a great opportunity," said CRT's Wendy Johnson. "It's very unusual, in my experience, that we stop and we think 15 years ahead and say, 'What can we do?' Taking a look at the long term is very interesting, and I think it'll be very beneficial in the long run."
As Johnson pointed out, the Future General Purpose Operational Ration, or FGPOR, could take any form.
"We try not to say MREs [Meals, Ready-to-Eat] because we're trying to think outside the box," Johnson said. "It doesn't have to be an MRE. They can look very, very different.
"Do we have to give them meals? Can we think about it in a different way? And can we give them a bunch of foods that maybe they can graze on?"
The CRT began its process about 18 months ago with a series of focus groups. The participants were told that rations could take on virtually any configuration.
"They were pretty interesting," Johnson said. "There were a lot of things that came up. What we were looking for were things that came up maybe multiple times."
Among the concepts that interested the focus groups were just-in-time delivery of rations, producing food with 3-D printers, and tailoring rations to parts of the world or missions.
Johnson said she was surprised by how much the groups focused on education.
"They're talking about educating the Soldiers, for one thing, and also educating their chain of command, so that everybody is aware of the importance of nutrition and how the rations fit into that," said Johnson, noting that this aspect of combat feeding is "not always fully understood."
Jeannette Kennedy, a senior food technologist at Combat Feeding, added that field rations are about "performance fueling and performance nutrition."
With data from focus groups in hand, four members of the CRT went to work fashioning the questionnaire.
"We went over every, single idea and talked it over and made sure that it was as clear and as concise as possible," Johnson said. "That took up a lot of time. I think we've got a good set of ideas from that whole process."
The basic questionnaire consists of 14 random questions and takes five to seven minutes to complete. The extended version, for subject-matter experts, asks them to rate 14 ration ideas, and they also have the opportunity to identify any obstacles they see to making each of those ideas a reality. This version of the questionnaire takes seven to 10 minutes.
Johnson said the questionnaire will be online through March.
"We tried to streamline it and make it go as quickly as they wanted it to go," Johnson said of participants. "Some people like to linger and think things over, and they're free to do that.
"We hope they'll be interested, and we hope that they take it seriously and they give us good, accurate answers."
Following data analysis on the completed questionnaires, CRT will deliver actionable requirements and concepts to Combat Feeding. These requirements will form the basis of future science and technology programs, which one day will lead to a FGPOR aligning with requirements projected today.
"This is another opportunity for us to gather information from our military customers on their requirements, in particular their future requirements," said Kennedy, "so that we can focus our efforts on meeting those needs."