Development of the MRE and T-Ration combat rations
New and improved!
Everyday the phrase comes
to us, reflecting changes in requirements, changes in tastes. No aspect of our
military lives is exempt, and subsistence, one of the soldier's most basic
needs, is a prime example of an area where change is continual. Still, as the
Army's doctrine and force structure are modified and refined, the bottom line
for feeding our troops remains simple. No matter what, meals must be
nutritionally sound, available, and most importantly soldiers must eat them.
and development of operational rations like that of other military
ration developer finds out sooner or later that the ideal combat ration provides
the full daily nutritional allowances in virtually no weight or space, and
magically transports and prepares itself into an endless variety of delicious
and familiar foods. It also retains these properties indefinitely, no matter how
long or where it is stored. Nobody expects these miracles to become real, but
then, the capabilities of the MRE and T-Ration may have seemed equally
outlandish less than two decades ago. When one ration developer in the late
1940s proposed that food could be heat processed in flexible materials he was
considered wildly visionary. By the late 1950s, things had changed considerably.
Retort pouch capability was shown to be enough to warrant the formulation of
the first parameters for the ration that was to become the MRE. By 1961, the
concept had been sufficiently developed along the lines of organizational and
operational requirements that specifics for developmental engineering were
approved. The goal was to increase the acceptability and reduce the weight of
the Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) using the capabilities of the retort pouch as
had already shown that the flat configuration of the retort pouch meant that
less drastic heat processing than required for rations in round metal cans was
needed. This resulted in better retention of characteristic food texture and
flavor. Further, whereas the MCI had been designed for only "infrequent
use", the MRE was required to pass the test of acceptability without
monotony when eaten as the sole diet for seven consecutive days - a then most
unusual "up-front" requirement for a combat ration!
and user tests showed that the first prototype MREs did not meet these criteria.
Further work was necessary to assure package integrity and to formulate
acceptable products. When "Final" user/technical testing took place in
1974-75, the MRE was so significantly preferred to the MCI as to warrant the new
ration's use as a sole diet for 10 consecutive days.
MRE was adopted as the DOD combat ration in 1975. The first buy, a large-scale
production test, began in 1978, with delivery in 1981. By this time, HQDA was
giving serious consideration to basing AFFS on the MRE without Tray Packs, at
least for the first 60 days. The developers at Natick protested that the MRE had
not been designed or tested for this. A prolonged feeding test in the early 1980s confirmed that this objection was well founded, and the MRE took its place
as part of AFFS, not its only component.
MRE not only increased combat ration acceptability and reduced package weight,
making the ration easier to carry on the person, but also proved to eliminate
problems of rust, corrosion and detinning. This gave the MRE a significantly
longer acceptable shelf life than was obtainable with the MCI. In addition, it
eliminated problems of dependency upon commercially available can sizes,
making the ration easier to improve as feedback comes in from the field. The
latter proved especially valuable, as feedback - principally from the
foregoing prolonged feeding test in 1983 as well as larger and smaller scale
tests in 1985, 1987, and 1988 - led to an extensive incremental improvement
program. That program has been ongoing since 1984 and is aimed at increasing the
MRE's acceptability for prolonged consumption as part of AFFS.
of this MREs procured in 1988 are markedly different than earlier issues.
"Welt pack" retort pouch entrees have totally replaced freeze dried
entrees in all 12 menus, with nine components reformulated to meet changing
tastes. Entree quantity has been increased from five to eight ounces for 10
menus. A fruit flavored beverage powder is included in all menus and liquid hot
pepper sauce in some. A premoistened towelette is added to the accessory
packets. These changes slightly increased the MRE's weight, but it is still
below that of the MCI.
new MREs were tested at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during Market Square II
this past summer with enthusiastic response from the troops. Work is underway
towards future incorporation of pouched white bread, additional wet-pack fruits,
and pouches with better performance characteristics in extreme environments.
other part of AFFSS is the T-Ration. Developed and fielded as individual items,
its growth has been even more evolutionary than the MRE. Commercial and military
developers originally saw the potential of the flat, rectangular pans that
required 50% less processing time than the conventional round #10 can
providing more acceptability. Items such as Lasagna, beef pot roast, and cakes
could be successfully packaged in the Tray-Pack. This is not attainable in #10
cans. Due to the marketing difficulties and competing priorities, the commercial
market was never fully developed.
the T-Rations high potential for military use was recognized.
Tray-Packs do not require refrigeration and can be prepared with minimal food service equipment and trained personnel simply by heating the containers. Because of this, they offer the possibility of providing hot "kitchen prepared" meals to large and small groups throughout the theatre of operations, even where this had previously been unfeasible.
Letter of Agreement for AFFS food service equipment referencing both
Tray-Packs and the MRE was approved in 1981. By 1983, the Armed Forces Product
Evaluation Committee of the DOD Food Planning Board has approved a program of
field testing to accelerate introduction of acceptable Tray-Pack foods on a
line item basis into the supply system.
initial variety of fully developed, specification Tray-Packs has increased
annually. Recent experience with the new items at Market Square II demonstrated
their much improved acceptability. As a result of ongoing efforts, 14 each
T-Ration breakfast and dinner menus incorporating 54 different items are
available for 1989 procurement. To make ration breakdown simpler, these are
provided in 36-person modules which include other items required for a
nutritionally complete meal. The modules also contain expendable utensils,
cups, plates, etc. for consuming the meal. The 1988 modules are most notable for
responding to continuing complaints about a lack of typical breakfast entrees:
corned beef hash, and various types of omelets are among the new
breakfast components. Development to increase the variety and acceptability of
the components is continuing at a rate of five new items a year.
the user must eat his way through the stocks already available, it may be some
time before the improvements summarized above or yet to come are evident in the
field. This problem is recognized and is being addressed at the highest levels
in DCSLOG. In the interim, the latest version of the MRE will be provided to
troops on field exercises at major training centers (such as National Training
inspection is accomplished to prevent issue of deteriorated or otherwise unsuitable
rations. Use of the Unsatisfactory Material Report (UMR) is the best way to
provide this feedback. Combat rations must above all be sufficiently acceptable
to troops under combat stress; that is those rations must be of such quality to
encourage consumption. Unless the soldier eats enough of his ration to sustain
his efficiency in the field, that ration has little value. Converting processed
foods into rations that meet this level of acceptability is not a simple
undertaking. In accomplishing it, the developers at Natick rely on expanding
their technological capabilities and receiving specific, substantiated and
responsible feedback from the field. Neither is exactly easy to get. That's part
of the challenge, as well as Natick's goal as work towards the ideal combat
the time this article was written in 1988:
Rita M Alspach was a Subsistence Officer, Food and Engineering Directorate,
Natick RD & E Center, Natick, Ma.
D. Gagne was the Project Officer of the Tray Pack Program, Food Technology
Division, Natick RD & E Center, Natick Ma
Alice Meyer was a Military Requirements Analyst, Food Engineering Directorate, Natick RD & E Center, Natick, Ma.
as of 24 Sep 00