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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: January 20, 2006
No: 06-03

Compressed Meals will offer top quality in smaller package

NATICK, Mass. -- In a family of the MRE and MCW/LRP, the FSR and UGR-A, H&S and E, a new tightly-packaged ration developed at the Natick Soldier Center’s Combat Feeding Directorate even has a shorter name.

Compressed Meals (CM) are the military’s answer to a lighter, leaner individual ration with fresh-food quality for mechanized infantry units now and into the future.

“It’s filling a niche for the Future Combat Vehicle,” said Joel McCassie, project officer. “It provides a compact food source carried inside a vehicle. It looks like it’s on track to achieving our goals.”

Placed next to a Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE), a Compressed Meal is noticeably smaller. It occupies up to one-third less volume and sheds nearly as much weight without sacrificing any of the accessories or calories found in an MRE.

Besides reduced packaging made possible by its less robust storage and handling requirements, weight and volume savings come from dehydrating the main entree using a combination of freeze-drying, air drying and dry blending, according to McCassie.

With freeze-drying, the food is prepared, frozen into a solid block and subjected to an extreme vacuum. Water is extracted through sublimation without damaging the food’s characteristics.

Air drying is accomplished by forcing warm air over food in an oven before damage occurs, and dry blending mixes in foods that don’t have any water to remove, such as rice and pasta.

What hasn’t been compressed is the shelf life, which can extend well beyond the required minimum three years at 80 degrees F or six months at 100 degrees F, McCassie said, and the quality isn’t sacrificed either.

Six lunch or dinner menus along with three breakfast menus were created by Combat Feeding Directorate food scientists and manufactured by industry partner Oregon Freeze Dry Inc. in Albany, Ore., leveraging components already found in the MRE and First Strike Ration (FSR), such as crackers and HooAH! bars.

After a full-scale prototype production, an evaluation team from Natick visited a Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis, Wash., in May 2005 for a focus group to gather comments on the new meals. The Soldiers praised the taste and compactness of the meals while questioning the availability of hot water in the Stryker and time to prepare the ration in a tactical environment, according to McCassie.

Menu variety includes meat and vegetarian selections, as well as egg entrees that never were well regarded in the MRE.

“The eggs are awesome,” McCassie said. “The Soldiers were asking for more coffee and caffeinated beverages because they said that’s what kept them alive in Iraq. We’re looking at different options, such as cappuccino and cocoa.”

He added that they also liked the ease of preparation and the scrambled egg breakfast menus unavailable in the MRE.

Preparing an entrée takes seven steps: cutting open the pouch, breaking apart large clumps, adding 12 ounces of boiling water, stirring thoroughly, folding the pouch top to retain heat, waiting 10 minutes, and finally stirring and serving.

The Crew Sustainment for Future Combat Systems project involving several military organizations may solve the hot water shortage and also provide cool water for beverages using a lightweight thermoelectric device as an alternative to the heavier Mounted Water Ration Heater. Part of the vision is to collect potable water from combusted diesel fuel for Compressed Meals and beverages, McCassie said.

Dehydration technology for the meals is applicable to the continuous product improvement of the Meal, Cold Weather/Long Range Patrol (MCW/LRP) and in bulk compressed entrees packed in cans or pouches for Unitized Group Ration (UGR), Navy submarines or as stockpiled Homeland Defense emergency supplies, according to McCassie. Meals also could be made for home, office or outdoor enthusiasts with the same technology.

He said focus groups at Fort Lewis affirmed that the project was progressing well. The next step will be to assemble a larger quantity to conduct a field evaluation as early as next year. Initial fielding could begin late in 2007.

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This page last updated on 23 January 2004.