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A small yet extremely wealthy (modern day equivalent) warlord is attempting to move her 10,000 strong army on a journey that will take at least 2 years (not space travel though). The exact distance is irrelevant for the purposes of this question. Relevant information includes the fact that they will travel through lands without inhabitants, through many different climates. They will not be able to forage enough food for all of the soldiers, nor will they be able to bring enough with them for the entire journey, nor will they be able to get resupplied en route.

Is their any way for them to bring along a way for them to make food en route? Maybe some type of vehicle (it could be massive), that they would be able to grow food on.

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    $\begingroup$ They can't forage enough, can't bring enough to supplement what they can't forage, and won't be resupplied. It must be pretty close if you think growing food on a platform is going to help. Why not simply load up this massive vehicle with food for the trip? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 12 '15 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. I have to agree with Samuel on this one. It stretches plausibility to the breaking point...with modern technology it takes about 1.2 acres to feed a person for a year. You would need 12,000 acres of mobile farms...that is A LOT. In standard units that is 18.75 sq/miles. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 12 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ There may be a way to recycle human waste for food but you have to breed bacteria throughout the journey, yuck!😖 $\endgroup$ – user6760 Aug 12 '15 at 23:51
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Why would you not just rely on stored food? While MREs are probably a bad choice due to both shelf life and weight, even with that assumption you would have less weight and trouble than if you tried to grow your own food. Each MRE weighs roughly 625 grams(1.3 lb) with two a day over two years it would be just under a metric ton(912 kg or 2011 lb) per person. That really isn't bad at all considering the weight of everything else you would presumably need for such an absurd expedition. And with better quality meals, it is possible to lower that to well under a quarter of that total. Though that might lead to higher water requirements as those foods are often freeze dried.

Though said solution would likely lead to your troops wanting to revolt by the end, due to the lousy food quality, it would be far more practical than attempting to grow your own food. Unless you happen to be Mark Watney.

The bigger question is why is your army traveling for two years over land? In reality we use air travel and ocean travel to avoid such long trips over land as much as possible. Even when traveling over land, railroads are still the preferred method when possible. One estimate even claimed that it would have been cheaper to build a railroad into Afghanistan than using truck convoys. And what is your fuel source? Unless your soldiers are marching, which begs the question of what possible benefit there could be to such a journey. Any soldier that marches for two years is going to be so ineffective by the time that he meets the enemy that you are all but guaranteed to lose by the time you get there.

And how is it even possible for there to be a two year journey with modern technology unless you are traveling in space? Unless your troops are engaged in combat, in which case they are going to need to be resupplied with fresh ammunition and fuel anyway, it could not possibly take two years to reach any point on an earth sized planet. Unless they are marching, in which case you have the problem I mentioned above.

And what opponent would be worth going after with only 10,000 soldiers? The Bush administration was criticized in Iraq for having less than 300,000 soldiers in country. It is possible for a raid to be carried out against a major nation with a force the size of the one you describe, but that would require an effective transportation ability to get them out of the country. Which would again beg the question of why they had to travel for two years to get there.

A deeper problem with this scenario comes from the fact that in modern times warfare is becoming increasingly cost prohibitive. Despite the fact that many claim that America went to war in Iraq for oil, much of that oil went to the Chinese instead, as they were more able to buy it. That is the lesson in modern times, buying resources is better than going to war to get them. While there is still the possibility of smaller wars, big ones seem to be a thing of the past, especially when one considers the existence of nuclear weapons.

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They land may not be forage-able by humans, but can it support animals?

For example, cows. Some rough napkin math says that to support your 10,000 troops for 2 years, you'd need to slaughter roughly 22,000 beef cows. Now, that's a lot, but back in the 19th century it wasn't super uncommon for herds of up to 3,000 cattle to be driven long distances. And that's done with only a double handful of cowboys and some extra horses. So it seems like it's at least within the realm of possibility.

So what you should do is break your army up into multiple units, each with it's own associated cattle drive to support it. With modern tech you might be able to handle more than 3,000 cows at a time, but I don't know of any modern mass cattle drives so it's hard to be sure.

One downside of this technique is it will probably make the army take longer - herds of cows are slower than soldiers. In turn, that means you need to up the number of food animals you're transporting. Depending on the exact route, terrain, and speed differential, I'd try to bring along between 30k-40k cows to feed your troops.

As time goes by the herds will get smaller as you eat them, so if possible the trip should be planned so that forage can be maximized early on.

One other point - the beef will keep them alive, but probably not extremely healthy. Make sure everyone packs vitamins.

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    $\begingroup$ Would it be possible to use the cows as pack animals? You could make them carry even more food, which might ease up the initial cow count. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 12 '15 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh: Any extra weight they carry will end up being more calories they burn, which in turn means less when they're eventually slaughtered. It might make sense if you have a large area of rich forage right near the start of the journey - that way your cows can eat up and not lose as much weight, and you could eat the packed food first. But if not, I suspect having them carry more food will be a wash. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Aug 12 '15 at 19:18
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With current or near-present technology, I can only think of hydroponics and aeroponics, which require less space and can produce food very quickly.

However, deploying, powering and maintaining the hundreds or thousands of machines required to feed such a large troop, while theoretically possible, would be very difficult. It would certainly require the development of the technologies that we posses today, since they are still in their infancy.

In summary: it may be possible, but it would require research and time, and it would be very, very expensive.

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I wonder for how many days one person could carry food? I'd assume less than a week unless it's pure sugar or similar.

On the other hand I could imagine a group of initially very fat soldiers which only carry vitamins and certain minerals, could maybe survive long using their stored energy. (Altough I'm unsure on the ability to walk.).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2495396/ --> 382 days from 200kg to 75kg.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the extreme fatness is why they take so long to get there. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 12 '17 at 21:37

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