U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: November 7, 2001
Extreme conditions require different kind of rations
Natick, Mass. --- Two special-purpose combat rations developed by the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick) have merged into a single product called the Meal, Cold Weather/Food Packet, Long Range Patrol (MCW/LRP).
The new item streamlines production and provides greater operational flexibility compared to the Ration, Cold Weather used by soldiers in frigid climates and the Food Packet, Long Range Patrol (LRP) consumed by Special Operations Forces, which shared the same primary components.
The meal/packet expanded the variety to 12 menus from the Ration, Cold Weather's six menus and LRP's eight menus. Besides all-white packaging for cold weather locations and tan wrapping for special operators, the product is nearly identical. Still, the features of the product serve different needs.
The original Food Packet, Long Range Patrol was first issued in 1964 and was popular with soldiers in the Vietnam Conflict, according to Vicki Loveridge, food technologist and project officer for the new meal/packet. The LRP was designed for troops in operations without resupply for up to 10 days issued at one or two packets for each soldier per day.
Each packet contained about 1,100 calories consisting of a pre-cooked, freeze-dehydrated entrée in a reconstitution package as the main component, candy, cereal or fruitcake bar, coffee, cream, sugar, toilet paper, matches and a plastic spoon. Five menus also included a cocoa beverage.
"Freeze-dried foods have a fresher flavor than canned food," Loveridge said. "It's essentially frozen, where the water has been removed. Food tastes better because there are less physical and chemical changes."
Freeze-dried food can be eaten as is or rehydrated with hot or cold water. It's resistant to storage damage, and with vacuum packing, the entrees have a shelf life as long as 20 years, according to Loveridge. The new MCW/LRP meets or exceeds the military's shelf life standards of three years at 80 degrees F or six months at 100 degrees F. The process also makes the food lighter and easier to carry.
"Food is one of the things soldiers will discard to save weight and space," she said. "They'd rather carry more ammunition."
By 1983, the Combat Feeding Program created the Food Packet, Assault for the Marine Corps that was never fielded but became useful in developing the Ration, Cold Weather.
Marines wanted a lightweight, high-density food packet issued one per day for each Marine on missions without resupply. Prototypes consisted of a variety of dehydrated and compressed bars that totaled about 1,500 calories. Although it had been approved for purchase, the Food Packet, Assault was too expensive.
The LRP reserves had dwindled during the 1980s, but there was still a demand for a restricted-calorie product to sustain troops during initial assault, special operations and long-range reconnaissance missions.
By 1994, a new LRP ration was introduced. The newest entree package eliminates the old rehydration pouch placed inside an aluminum foil and polyester barrier pack. Soldiers can pour water directly into the brick-shaped pouch holding the food.
The new MCW/LRP weighs 1 pound compared to the Meal, Ready-to-Eat's (MRE) 1 1/2 pounds, and it's compatible with the MRE production.
"It's designed so you can have a good meal without extra weight and bulk," Loveridge said. "You're getting 8 ounces of entrée with the MRE, but a rehydrated LRP provides 16 ounces of food. Special Forces like that because they feel full at least once a day."
That's important because one packet of the new LRP contains 1,540 calories and is intended to give the special operator his food each day for up to 10 days. A study in 1992 conducted with Rangers by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, an installation partner at Natick, concluded that the extra calories provided by a LRP ration over a 1,200-calorie MRE can make a critical difference in physical performance and immune function.
"In addition we've learned that they're not nutrient-deficient under these extreme training conditions. They're calorie-deficient," said Loveridge. "They want something lightweight and nutritionally-balanced, and this meets those demands."
Marines who deployed to Norway on NATO training missions faced several problems with the MRE. The entrée pouches, then not designed to withstand freezing and thawing, leaked.
Furthermore, Loveridge said Marines who ate the cold meals experienced hypothermia and dehydration. A different ration was needed.
The prototype Arctic Ration was first designed in 1981 to provide Marines with a lightweight, compact and high-caloric meal for assault, reconnaissance and other non-resupply missions in frigid weather. Another early prototype consisted of three packages.
The main meal pack contained two packages of freeze-dried entrée bars, oatmeal, two plastic spoons and an accessory packet. The other two packages were for a drink or soup, and snacks. The entire ration provided a minimum of 4,500 calories.
The Arctic Ration eventually became the Ration, Cold Weather and is used by the Marine Corps in NATO exercises and Army units in cold climates, such as Fort Drum, N.Y. and Alaska.
Freeze-drying's major advantage besides low weight is low-moisture (2.5 percent compared to the MRE's 40-80 percent) that practically eliminates any chance of it freezing. Other important features of the ration are reduced sodium and protein levels because studies indicated that lowering them reduces the body's need for water. If all the components are hydrated, 90 ounces of water is consumed.
"This gives (troops) a point to start with in water discipline," Loveridge said. "You still need to drink extra water in cold climates. We want to encourage water and calorie consumption, giving them ready-to-eat foods so they can eat on-the-move and rehydratables to maintain water balance."
The Ration, Cold Weather contains a day's ration in two bags weighing 2 3/4 pounds. Troops in cold regions will now be issued three packs of the new Meal, Cold Weather, but its packaging is useful in situations where only one meal is desired, which gives units feeding flexibility, according to Loveridge.
Since it would take four MREs to get 4,500 calories, the MCW is still significantly smaller and lighter.
Customers have been pleased with the results. A Navy master chief at the Naval Special Warfare Detachment in Kodiak, Alaska, wrote Loveridge in June to praise the new MCW.
He said that in 21 years of service it was the best field ration he has used and that he looks forward to giving them to the troops.
Loveridge said future changes to the Meal, Cold Weather/Food Packet, Long Range Patrol may include switching to a single pale-green color for easier procurement, standard use of a peel-open seal for the entrée, and replacement of peanut brittle bar and granola bar with products that have a longer shelf life.
Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). For more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick), please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.