Meet the Air Force's $1200 cup of coffee — or more precisely the $1220 coffee cup which keeps breaking, after which the military simply buys more and more cups.
The Air Force's $1,220 reheating coffee cup. Image source: US Air Force
Some outlets which have reported on the insanely pricey self reheating coffee mug commonly used aboard aerial refueling tankers have presented it as merely a human interest and innovative tech story as the US military is considering cheaper designs using 3-D printers.
However, we doubt American taxpayers will see it that way, as the public has had to foot the bill to the tune of nearly $56,000 over the past three years just to replace the cup's handle.
If it sounds too absurd to be true a new Air Force Times report begins as follows:
When a mobility airman drops a cup of coffee aboard an aircraft, the Air Force can be out $1,220.
Since 2016, the replacement cost for some of the service’s coffee mugs, which can reheat coffee and tea on air refueling tankers, has gone up more than $500 per cup, forcing the service to dish out $32,000 this year for just 25 cups, military.com recently reported.
The 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base recently revealed that it has spent nearly $56,000 to replace broken hot cups over the past three years. The culprit, they say, is a faulty plastic handle known to break on impact. Each time a handle breaks, the Air Force is forced to order a whole new cup, as replacement parts are no longer made.
So the Air Force charged taxpayers $32,000 this year alone for cups with
solid gold handles "faulty plastic handles" so that pilots can ensure their tea and Folgers get adequately reheated.
And we're not so sure — to use the Air Force Times' language — that faulty handles are "forcing the service" to have to do anything, much less we can't figure out how the military is "forced to" shell out tens of thousands for coffee cups.
According to Air Mobility Command officials, the 60th Aerial Port Squadron purchased 10 hot cups for $9,630 in 2016. The price for each cup surged from $693 to $1,220 in 2018, resulting in a cost of $32,000 for 25 cups -- a price jump of $527 per cup, the release said. — Military.com
But it is true that the cups have to withstand use in pressurized areas on aircraft such as cargo planes, and must endure turbulence while flying through inclement weather. Still, as Popular Mechanics concludes in what sounds like an ironic understatement, "A self-heating coffee cup is a nice morale-builder for air crews, but it comes at a price."
Meanwhile in the same report we learn about "$10,000 toilet seat covers" which when combined with $1200 coffee cups "just adds up" — in the words of one government spending watchdog group.
Spokesman for the Project On Government Oversight, Dan Grazier, notes that this kind of obscene excess is hardly new for the Department of Defense, explaining to the Air Force Times, "the root of the problem is intellectual property rights. When the Pentagon makes deals with defense contractors, it rarely demands data rights, allowing contractors to charge heavily for repair and replacement on the systems down the road."
Once locked into a fat government contract, the suppliers take the DoD to the bank for all they can manage, apparently.
The Air Force is currently seeking alternate ways to replace the faulty handles on the $1200 cups, reportedly considering 3-D printed replacement handles at an estimated cost of 50 cents.