Gerald Darsch said the joint-service program is an effort to provide not only the appropriate types and distribution of food needed by the military services, but also to supply food products to astronauts at the International Space Station.
Combat rations and their distribution have improved considerably over the last five to seven years, Darsch said. The Combat Feeding program elicits "what soldiers like to eat and what they don't like to eat. All of the rations are soldier requested, soldier tested, soldier approved."
When servicemembers ask for a certain food item, such as Spanish rice or Thai chicken, food specialists develop recipes that will meet the request.
Test panels are randomly selected to evaluate recipes during development. Once a recipe is finished, it is field tested with soldiers to ensure the goal is met.
One type of ration, the Meal, Ready-to-Eat, or MRE, is currently used by the military to sustain individuals in the field until an organized food facility is established. At present, mobile troops, who may not have much time to eat, take out only certain food components from the MRE rations. "They leave up to 50 percent of the unused portion behind, only to be thrown away," Darsch noted.
The prototype "First Strike" ration program provides highly mobile ground troops with total eat-on-the-move capability. He said the idea is to provide a single ration per day containing only food items that are easy to use and consume.
Recently, both the Marines and Army soldiers have requested First Strike rations developed by the Combat Feeding program.
"The Marines have asked for these rations to use in Afghanistan and Iraq," Darsch said. "(The Army's) 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq has also requested to try these rations for their soldiers." Both services said it would provide a capability they really don't have, he added.