NATICK, Mass. - A new compact, eat-on-the-move assault ration is well on its way to Warfighters' hands.
"The First Strike Ration is intended for the first on the ground, first to fight Warfighter," said Barbara Daley, food technologist and FSR project officer, Combat Feeding Directorate, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Usually when Warfighters are issued two or more Meals, Ready-to-Eat they "field strip" them to lessen the bulk and weight they are carrying.
Personnel at NSRDEC found that not only were Warfighters tossing what they considered extra weight, such as the flameless ration heater and Tabasco sauce, but they were also tossing food items. According to the Product Optimization and Evaluation Team at NSRDEC, if a Warfighter is given 3600 calories, often he or she will strip it down to 2500 calories.
The First Strike Ration attempts to reduce this stripping by providing a lighter and smaller sized package with eat-on-the-go items that are also performance enhancing. These items are calorically dense and provide appropriate nutritional content to the Warfighter for short durations of highly mobile, highly intense combat operations in order to give the Warfighters a needed source of energy to maintain physical performance.
"There is little or no preparation of the food items that needs to be done by the Warfighter," Daley said. Pocket sandwiches, First Strike energy bars, Zapplesauceā„¢-a carbohydrate enhanced applesauce, high energy drinks, pouches of tuna and chunk chicken and caffeinated gum are some of the items that are included in the FSR.
The FSR is designed to be about half the size of the three MREs it replaces and it provides, on average, 2900 calories per day.
"It is not intended to sustain the Warfighter for long periods of time," Daley emphasized.
Because of its lower caloric content, the FSR is classified by the Office of The Surgeon General as a restricted ration. As such, it can only be used as a sole source of food for ten days or less in accordance with Army Regulation 40-25.
The FSR has a two-year shelf life at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the three-year shelf life of the MRE. The shorter shelf life is due to the inclusion of some of the unique FSR components such as shelf-stable pocket sandwiches.
The smaller size of the FSR enables a logistics reduction for the Army. It reduces the weight and cube by 50 percent compared to the MRE, but the FSR cases are designed to have the same footprint as an MRE case. With the FSR, there are nine meals per ship case, three of each menu variety.
CFD conducted user evaluations on the FSR in Nevada and Germany in fiscal year 2004 and Afghanistan and Iraq in fiscal year 2005. When compared with a field-stripped MRE in Iraq in 2005, more than 70 percent of Soldiers said that the FSR was more convenient to carry and consume than the MRE.
"The best feedback we have received to date has been from Warfighters participating in OIF/OEF [Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom] in the mountains of Afghanistan and Iraq. They loved it," said Daley. Over 6500 FSRs have been used in theater in response to urgent requests by 25th Infantry Division and the Marine Corps and modifications have been incorporated based on Warfighter feedback.
One of the comments CFD received was: "You have created something great here. Do not fail in this ration. Need to make these happen for the Soldiers who go outside the wire. Could not get enough of them into theater," from Lt. Col. David Exton, 25th Infantry Division.
More recently, in July 2006, CFD conducted an operational test at Fort Bragg, N.C. With more than 100 Soldiers participating from an Airborne Infantry Battalion, one group consumed the FSR for three days while the other group consumed an MRE control for three days. Then the groups switched. From monitoring what the Soldiers ate and what they threw out, CFD saw less waste and greater consumption with the groups eating the FSR.
Based upon these successful tests, and the introduction of this ration in-theater, the demand for the FSR is immense.
In November 2006, a Joint Services Decision Board consisting of the Army, Marine Corps, and Defense Logistics Agency approved the FSR for procurement and fielding.
NSRDEC was able to compress the acquisition process by nearly 30 percent while maintaining support for all other ration platforms in order to maintain the schedule of 3rd quarter fiscal year 2007 procurement by Defense Logistics Agency/Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, with delivery in 4th quarter fiscal year 2007.
The FSR has transitioned to CFD's Assault/Special Purpose Ration Improvement Program so science and technology innovations can be inserted as early as possible. The CFD will periodically conduct field tests to collect user feedback. The Marine Corps is already asking for an expanded menu.
And as with all operational rations, the voice of the customer will drive the menu expansion and continuous product improvement effort.
As the military transforms to become a lighter, more agile and mobile force, the FSR will assist by lightening the load our Warfighters carry.