U.S. military nutrition experts hope to start testing a new assault ration, known as the Close Combat Assault Ration, that is drastically lighter than existing field rations by 2020.
Ten years ago, the Defense Department's Combat Feeding Directorate began fielding the First Strike Ration, which was designed to give combat troops the equivalent of three Meals, Ready to Eat a day in a compact, lightweight package.
At about two pounds, the FSR is about half the weight and size of three MREs.
Prototypes of the Close Combat Assault Ration weigh about as much as one MRE and take up about 75 percent less room as an equivalent number of individual meals inside a pack, according to Jeremy Whitsitt, deputy director of the CFD.
"It's designed for those guys like Army Rangers, special ops guys, light infantry -- guys that would potentially be in a mission scenario that would require them to carry multiple days of food, ammunition, water, other supplies, without the potential of being resupplied," he told Military.com.
The idea of having a combat ration tailored to the needs of ground troops has been bounced around before. In 2016, Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, told industry professionals at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, that he was interested in developing an MRE specially designed for Marine grunts, who need the most nutrition at the lightest weight possible.
While the CCAR is still in prototype stage, it weighs about 1.5 pounds, Whitsitt said, explaining a process of vacuum microwave drying that shrinks the food by about 50 percent.
A sample CCAR menu contains a tart cherry nut bar, cheddar cheese bar, mocha dessert bar, vacuum-dried strawberries, trail mix of nuts and fruit, Korean barbeque stir fry packet, spinach quiche packet with four small quiches, French toast packet, and a banana that was vacuum microwave dried to about one-third of its original size, according to a recent Army press release.
The goal is to begin testing the CCAR in 2020 and fielding it to replace the FSR in 2023, Whitsitt said, adding that the CCAR will not replace the MRE, which will remain the primary field ration.
On a five-day mission, rather than "field-stripping 15 MREs and taking things that are easy to carry, they can take five of these Close Combat Assault Rations and still get 3,000 calories a day but have more room in their pack for more ammunition, more medical supplies, more water -- things that will keep them in the fight longer," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.