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Here’s an interesting bit of news: the US Army wants to put 3D printers into the field. They don’t want to fabricate new ammo on the fly, nor print out replacement armor for Humvees. Rather, the Army wants to 3D print the soldiers’ food, and the reason is more interesting than just packing efficiency.
Remember, it’s not as though the Army has much in the way of a culinary reputation to protect; don’t think for a second that this is about bringing soldiers a little taste of home. The Army wants to be able to tailor its soldiers’ meals to their specific needs. That means not just giving certain soldiers certain meals, but giving them certain meals on certain occasions.
If a team has just spent 18 hours hiking through the mountains with heavy packs, they’ll need a different mixture of nutrients than one that lounged around at base — and that adjustment needs to ripple down through each soldier’s individual nutritional needs.
This might all sound like protecting schoolchildren from peanut crumbs, but the US military has become increasingly about smaller numbers of more and more elite troops. Keeping their biological processing moving at peak efficiency is as important as any weapons inspection, and soldiers won’t stay in top shape if they’re eating the wrong food — or avoiding their disgusting rations altogether. That’s where the actual printer part comes in, providing a more palatable presentation for what is otherwise essentially just an on-demand food-paste mixer.
This project is being handled by military researchers in collaboration with MIT, but it will likely be similar in function to some civilian projects currently in development. In particular, the Foodini (seen above) could do much of what a military printer might aspire to. Its unique nozzle can lay down everything from minced beef to raw dough, and use multiple ingredients so it can put sauce over a crust to make pizza. You still have to add your own toppings and throw it in an oven to cook, but if every soldier had a special enriched dough mixture, you could throw a big tray in an oven and get a whole squad fed quickly. The men might even get to top their own pie.
These examples all involve actual cooking, though, which is far less possible when you’re out in the middle of a desert or mountain range. In all likelihood, printing food in and around combat will involve raw meals not totally unlike the formless rations even civvies have come to dread. They might end up being more delicious, but if the Army’s priorities are in order then taste will almost certainly remain a comfort of home.