After an absence of over fifty years, the "assault ration" is back. The U.S. Army just announced a new, lightweight, "assault ration" for combat troops, especially those who march long distances carrying all their gear. During World War II, two special, lightweight, rations were developed for troops going into an offensive where they might not be resupplied for a few days. The "K Ration" was smaller and lighter than the C Ration, using more food in pouches. Three meals, containing 3,000 calories, weighted 2.31 pounds and could be carried in the large pockets of the combat uniform. There was also the "D Ration," a concentrated four ounce "food bar" containing chocolate and a lot of other stuff, as well as 600 calories. It tasted terrible, but if you were hungry enough, you would eat it.
The concept of an "assault ration" actually goes back to the 19th century, when American troops fighting Indians adopted jerky and precooked grain as a lightweight food supply for long marches. During World War I, an assault ration that could be used in moist environments (where jerky goes bad quickly) was developed. Jerky (dried or smoked meat), of course, is an ancient form of portable food, but it wasn't formally adopted by the U.S. Army until after the Civil War.
Wartime is sort of a lie detector for military equipment developed during peacetime. Case in point is the MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat), which have been around for over three decades. You'd think that by now all the kinks would have been worked out. Well, sort of. It turns out that for years, the minority of troops (some commandoes and light infantry) spent a lot time marching, carrying all their weapons, equipment and food with them. During the Afghanistan campaign, it became widely known that troops would strip non-essential stuff from their MREs so they could carry less weight with them. Normally, a MRE weighs 1.5 pounds (24 ounces) and contains about 1200 calories. Stripping out packaging, heat tabs and the like could remove almost half a pound. The new "first strike" ration weighs about 14 ounces and has about a thousand calories. So a day's worth of food is three pounds and is more nutritionally complete than the "stripped" regular MREs. The new ration has been tested by Special Forces and SEALs, who liked it. Unfortunately, the new ration won't be issued until 2007. It will be used by all services. In the air force, for example, pilots carry emergency rations in case they have to bail out.