Kitchen on a pallet lands on Air Force packing list
Serving seven airmen per minute, the Single Pallet Expeditionary Kitchen (SPEK) proved its efficiency during operational testing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in March and could soon find widespread use in the Air Force.
The SPEK, designed by the Systems Equipment and Engineering Team at the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program, located at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., was created to satisfy the Air Force’s requirement for a rapidly deployable, temporary kitchen for use in remote and undeveloped locations.
Testing showed it exceeded the standard of feeding Unitized Group Rations-Heat and Serve (UGR-H&S) to 300 airmen twice a day in two hours. Instead, 420 ROTC cadets picked up their dinner in an hour. Better yet, the airmen liked their meals.
“When we fed those cadets and their Air Force commanders, it was unbelievable. They said it was the best meal they had in six weeks since being in the field,” said Ken Ryan, SPEK project officer.
The Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is the first if not only source of food on the first days and weeks of a deployment before a base camp has been established. The UGR-H&S, also called tray rations, are normally the next step up in quality, and their popularity is increasing.
“(The SPEK) allows us to transition away from MREs. As much as possible, we’re trying to go to UGRs and eventually get to A-Rations,” said Master Sgt. Joe McNamara, with the Air Force Services Agency in San Antonio, Texas. “The guys at Natick put a lot of effort into it, and it’s a really good product.”
A simple design and setup, the SPEK progressed from a concept to prototype to a finished product in a few years. Everything but fuel, water and food is packed onto a single air cargo pallet and flown in an Air Force C-130. The entire SPEK can be set up by eight airmen in less than two hours and requires a four-person crew to operate the equipment and serve the food.
“Once the SPEK is set up and food prepared, it’s ready to grab and go,” Ryan said.
A three-section TEMPER tent forms the shell of the kitchen. Overhead and mobile interior lighting is powered by a 2-kilowatt military generator while pieces of reinforced plastic form 480 square feet of easy-to-clean flooring.
Besides cleanliness, the floor pieces require little space on the pallet, lock simply together and hug the contours of the ground they are placed on.
Food storage containers and tables with folding legs hold trays ready to be moved to the serving line and trays already on the serving line. After the food is served, airmen can fill up at the beverage container and find a place to eat.
A Multi-Ration Heater warms tray packs and No. 10 cans of vegetables, and the Sanitation Hot Water Heater cleans, washes and sanitizes kitchen utensils and serving pans.
The ration heater and sanitation heater, both developed by the Systems Equipment and Engineering Team, operate using the same kind of efficient, low-cost and reliable commercial burner powered by JP-8 or diesel fuel. They can withstand temperatures ranging from minus 25 to 120 degrees F and up to 100 percent relative humidity. A spare parts kit for these components is included, and extra parts are readily available from R.W. Beckett Corp. or their dealerships across the country.
Operation of the ration heater is as simple as placing the tray packs into the rack, filling the 15-gallon tank with water and turning it on. An affixed menu guidelines plaque provides a chart of cooking times for tray packs and No. 10 cans on either a boil or an automatic mode.
Just as significant is the sanitation system. It’s composed of a burner base, steam generator, three-compartment sink—each compartment holding up to 17 gallons of water—and steam manifold sparger system. The system’s steam generator maintains water temperature for washing at 120 degrees F, rinsing at 140 degrees F and sanitizing at 180 degrees F.
Radiant heat and hot combustion gases flow upward through the steam generator, transferring heat to the water to produce steam. Steam from the generator passes through hoses, control valves and spargers into each sink to maintain water temperatures. The system’s low pressure is safe, and the generator automatically refills with water as it’s converted to steam.
“This gives you amenities you don’t normally see in an initial deployment field kitchen,” Ryan said. “After a base camp is built, the kitchen can be packed onto the pallet and sent elsewhere.”
The Special Operations Command has ordered SPEKs, and the regular Air Force and Air National Guard is preparing to order the kitchens.
Although designed to serve tray rations, Ryan said at some point in the future the SPEK may be upgraded to also prepare A-Rations to extend its mission.