This sounds ridiculous, but IMHO, it is actually a rational spend. You need high quality, high protein, high energy food for warfighters. And good food can help to bolster morale — it is often the ONLY good thing they have when in the ####.
As to just going commercial, you’d have to pick a supplier, test the jerky for longevity and nutrition content, verify security as the production facilities (one batch of poison introduced at an insecure facility could kill a LOT of troops), etc. And if the picked supplier did’t meet specs, all that money would be wasted. Also, the chosen supplier would certainly be a political crony, not the top quality producer.
Short version: Good safe food is ESSENTIAL to warfighting, so spending money on it is indeed rational!
“As to just going commercial...”
They did go commercial. They teamed up with FPL Foods for the development.
What did they develop? ‘Continuous Osmotic Dehydration’.
The link above contains the second quote I have seen from this Yang guy, saying normal jerky is to salty...which makes me suspicious there is a ‘Lets Move’ component to this (and skepical the jerky tastes good at all).
Anyway, that’s the $1.5 million voila moment. Instead of using salt to cure the meat, the meat is “...pulled through an osmotic solution [composed of sucrose/sodium chloride/water] that extracts moisture” (I’ll ignore the fact that ‘continuous osmotic dehydration’ uses sodium chloride in its no salt breakthrough dehydration method).
BTW, the Army already uses jerky in its First Strike Rations...’The use of commercial off-the-shelf products like this is one of the ways development time of the FSR was lowered.’:
So, unless this new jerky is remarkably cheaper, lighter, tastier...something, its just a classic case of a solution in search of a problem.