WASHINGTON -- The pizza MRE is finally coming to Soldiers in the field and the chocolate Performance Readiness Bar will now be available to all basic combat trainees.

In addition, New York cheesecake along with vacuum-packed fruits, vegetables and Monterey Jack cheese are among items in the new Close Combat Assault Ration currently under development.

The new rations were on display in the Pentagon courtyard May 24-25, along with 50 other technologies designed to increase infantry squad lethality.

Stephen Moody, director of the Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, was there. He talked about items fielded recently to bring more nutrition to warfighters. He also discussed developmental technologies such as the vacuum-microwave-dried fruit and veggies that will undergo field testing in the future.

The Combat Food Directorate has been striving to develop new rations that Soldiers will want to eat. Better nutrition improves cognitive functions, improves digestion with gut microbiome and biological optimization, and mitigates stress fractures, according to a panel behind the organization's display at the Pentagon.

PIZZA MRE

The Meal Ready to Eat with pepperoni pizza is now being produced by vendors and should be available to Soldiers downrange next year.

The pizza MRE is something Moody said Soldiers have been asking for since the 1980s when he went through basic training. The Combat Feeding Directorate has been working it since 2012 and now it's finally being packaged.

When and where the pizza MRE is issued to units will depend upon how soon existing stocks are exhausted at each location, Moody explained. It may be available at some locations by the end of the year, a Natick spokesman said. The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support spokesperson said it will be available to most Soldiers in about 18 months.

The pizza is made with a high-heat-tolerant mozzarella cheese, said Jeremy Whitsitt, deputy director of the Combat Feeding Directorate. To make the pizza possible, technologies that control moisture levels, pH and oxygen levels, for instance, have been combined to create a pizza with a three-year shelf life.

Other components in the pizza MRE are:

-- cherry blueberry cobbler
-- cheese spread with cheddar and jalapeno cheese
-- Italian bread sticks
-- cookies
-- chocolate protein drink powder

PERFORMANCE READINESS BAR

The chocolate Performance Readiness Bar, or PRB, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, has been available to Army basic trainees at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Air Force basic trainees at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for the past year as part of a pilot program.

Now, Moody said, availability of the PRB has been expanded to the remaining Army basic combat training locations at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The chocolate bar has been tested by the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine at Natick and evidence has shown that the bar can measurably increase bone density. The hope is that issuing the bar during basic combat training will help reduce stress fractures, Moody said, and reduce injury-related attrition.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

The Close Combat Assault Rations are being developed with a new technology called vacuum microwave drying. "It brings to the table an ability to put fruits and vegetables into MREs," Moody said.

The new vacuum microwave drying technology compresses food by about 50 percent while still leaving a little moisture in it to maintain some of the original flavor and texture.

"One of the benefits of the vacuum-microwave as opposed to freeze-drying is that with freeze-drying you have to put the water back in (before eating)," Moody said. "This you only remove enough water to get the shelf stability."

The Close Combat Assault Ration or CCAR is designed to feed a Soldier in the field for an entire day, unlike MREs which require three per day, Moody said. In that regard, the CCAR is like the First Strike Ration, first fielded about 10 years ago. But the CCAR will be even smaller and lighter to carry than the FSR.

The First Strike Rations were about half the weight and size of a day's worth of MREs. The CCAR prototypes are only one-third the weight of the same MREs and offer a 76 percent reduction in size. The new rations would reduce the weight an infantryman will need to carry on a 72-hour mission by almost 10 percent, according to Natick.

CCAR items on display at the Pentagon included:

-- tart cherry nut bar
-- cheddar cheese bar
-- mocha desert bar
-- vacuum-dried strawberries
-- trail mix of nuts and fruit
-- Korean barbeque stir fry packet
-- spinach quiche packet with four small quiches
-- French toast packet
-- a banana that was vacuum microwave dried to about one-third of its original size

Field testing of the CCAR should take place in FY2020, Moody said, and the plan is to field the new ration Army-wide in 2023.