Past experience has shown that operational rations must travel long distances, be exposed to wide temperature and humidity ranges, be handled roughly, and be stored where facilities are inadequate or none exist. Unless they retain the properties making them suitable and desirable for consumption, they are useless. Past emergencies have demonstrated both the economic waste and threat to preparedness of deteriorated, unserviceable supplies. Fielding of a ration entails capability of predicting its keeping quality under given time and temperature conditions, including prediction of the first date after manufacture at which stored rations must be opened to determine whether they should be issued, destroyed, or extended to another inspection period, along with the criteria for making these serviceability judgments.

Thus operational subsistence presents a continuing and open-ended demand on the nation's technical resources, but its demand on economic resources clearly cannot be open ended. Scale-up to volume production and continuing procurement on a competitive basis, within economic resources and without sacrificing a ration's essential characteristics, are major recurring hurdles. Unless they are overcome, the ration will be at best an academic curiosity with, perhaps, some aspects of knowledge or art it reflects applied to another, more workable item. There is irony in the recognition that products developed initially for specific military exigencies generally cannot be obtained for these unless they also prove to have some application in the civilian marketplace. Operational rations thus reflect compromises throughout their life cycle, but their essential characteristics cannot be compromised if the nation is to remain prepared.

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