Meet The Air Force's $1200 Cup Of Coffee

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

A insanely expensive self-heating cup in question on a counter inside a KC-10 Extender at Travis Air Force Base, California. Image source: US Air Force

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, 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. —

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. 


DeadFred toady Sat, 07/14/2018 - 00:29 Permalink

Look at the specs. The KC10 stays in the air for a long time. Forgoing coffee is not an option unless you want to provide Epi-pens filled with speed. Did you know the plane is filled with electronics, millions of dollars worth, and the plane needs to be able to fly upside down and take evasive maneuvers? Toilet seats that don't leak and leak-proof coffee cups are required and the cost for these items include all the design costs for a unit that will only be manufactured a few dozen times. There are some real wastes in these 'newsworthy' products but most of them come from .GOV's requirement that the military own the dies, molds and machinery to replicate them in case the manufacturer goes belly up. Most of these stories are as fake as a CNN report. I don't know the specifics on this one but odds are it is twisted reporting as well.

In reply to by toady

Klassenfeind Adolfsteinbergovitch Sat, 07/14/2018 - 04:41 Permalink

Typical American 'quality' (see Tesla and the entire US automotive industry).

You could of course import a decent coffee maker Made in China or Germany or Japan for ±$100 or import one of those simple insulated coffee mugs for ±$5, but then President Scrooge will slap some tariffs on them 'because other countries are treating us soooo unfairly and are taking advantage of us.'

(an imported coffee pot/mug + tariffs would still be heaps cheaper of course, but common sense was not part of the curriculum for members of the MIC, the Deep State or Trump's White House administration for that matter)

p.s. Trump now also wants to outfit the new Air Force One with a similarly tacky paint job that can be found on his tasteless and megalomaniac private jet.

In reply to by Adolfsteinbergovitch

Free This Klassenfeind Sat, 07/14/2018 - 06:33 Permalink

Damn, that is a lot of Star-bucks...$32K for 25 cups huh? Amazing how much money is wasted by the MIC.

I read they have $1200 toilet seats and $700 hammers (maybe I have it backwards?), among other items, who does their procurement? Fire them, quickly!

I take most of what I read and hear with a big grain of salt, even some of the shit I watch too - photoshop and digital vids.

In reply to by Klassenfeind

Klassenfeind dchang0 Sat, 07/14/2018 - 05:05 Permalink

"In that case, the Air Force should not buy metal coffee gadgets at all. They would be projectiles in the cabin."

True, but the current Air Force One (Boeing 747-200), the KC10 (McDonnell Douglas DC10) and the KC135 (Boeing 707) are all based on 1950's, 1960's and 1970's technology.

As a matter of fact, most non-fighter (i.e. transport and tanker) jets of the USAF date from those eras, aircraft like the C5 Galaxy, the C130 Hercules, the B52's, the AWACS, the JSTAR's, the Joint Rivets, the E4B's etcetera

It must cost bloody fortunes to maintain and operate (fuel burn!) those old heaps of shit... 

In reply to by dchang0

LaugherNYC Klassenfeind Sat, 07/14/2018 - 06:34 Permalink

IT has turned out to be much cheaper to retrofit older airframes with new electronics, propulsion and avionics units.

Because we were so fucking good at building jets in the 50s 60s and 70s, nobody has really surpassed those benchmark designs for supersonic fighter/bombers. Some tweaks to the munitions has required adjustments in stores moiunts and locations, some wing deign mods, and in targeting hardware and software. But, all within the existing frame. The F-14,15,16, 18 and 22 not to meantion Godheadf A-10, are kick ass frames capable of mind-numbing performance at their given roles. It would be IDIOTIC to phase these out for the F-35 which is good as it is, for multiple roles, but not really great at any.

We must not take away these old but still stateof the art frames, simply update them with better stealth tech and profiles, without abandoning these awesome aircraft. STOP trying to make the F-35 the everything machine, It just AINT.

If the 35 can evolve into a good low and slow weapons platform for close support, while a serviceable ATA close peer supremacy machine without all the insane comms and interconnectivity that goes all to shit with the least interruption,  then fit it in as a new tool in the box — BUT KEEP THE FUCKIN TOOLS THAT WORK!!

In reply to by Klassenfeind

Falcon49 Klassenfeind Sat, 07/14/2018 - 06:51 Permalink

That is RJ's not JR's.  Also, the cost of replacing those AC's along with the ground support components would be immense.  The time and resources to go through the requirements definition phase, AC design, testing.........The C17 was started in the late 70's/early 80's...originally the AF's intent was to replace the C-130.  Politics and logic....step in.  The original plan was to build several hundred.  The manufacturing infrastructure was built for that production...then the number was significantly reduced...resulting in the unit cost significantly increasing....not to worry, parts were built in practically every state and shipped to the assembly plant in CA...thus, insuring congressional support for addition funding. 

Now consider how long it took to develop and deploy the F-22 or F-35.....the cumbersome processes to get to an approved program and a final product adds years to the timeline and billions in costs.  Essentially, in order to have a modern weapon system you have to start the process for replacement at about the same time you start delivering the current new system.  However, this encourages you push the bounds of current technology, in an attempt to get ahead of technology (and the threat) to deliver an advanced state of the art system may (and will) put yourself in a position where by the cost and time it takes to deliver an operational AC grows and extends to the point were it is already obsolete (and unable to fully address the changing threat) when happened with the F-22.  Resulting in the pursuit of an F-35.

To is the process and lack of vision/flexibility that is the problem....such, is the curse of an out of control corrupt bureaucratic process.   

In reply to by Klassenfeind

MaxThrust Klassenfeind Sat, 07/14/2018 - 09:08 Permalink

It must cost bloody fortunes to maintain and operate (fuel burn!) those old heaps of shit... 

And of course this is all deliberate because it makes the USA so desperate to have guaranteed supplies of oil which it turns out can only be guaranteed by threat of force from these gas guzzling old aircraft, tanks and ships. This whole system depends on it.

Changing this dynamic will take another 50 year and will only happen if the Deepstate deems it so.

In reply to by Klassenfeind

Hudis Muffakah DeadFred Sat, 07/14/2018 - 00:50 Permalink

This is an outrage. How about caffeine gum and adult Huggies? Sorry to be blunt, but any attempt to soft soap this away strikes me as ridiculous and irresponsible.

And this: "the root of the problem is intellectual property rights."

Can someone explain to me how someone can be the sole owner of AN IDEA? The appropriate cost for anything that can be infinitely duplicated without diminishing the quality of the original is exactly $0. IP is just another government racket that stands on nothing more than state enforcement power. Imagine if there were IP lawyers and monopolist-bureucratic enforcers around when the first wheel was invented. How far along would we be as a civilization? Unbelievable!

And another thing: how long would they have to keep the coffee hot if they would stick to refueling intercept fighters patrolling the skies above the US, instead of Saudi bombers wiping out Houthis, etc.?

In reply to by DeadFred

shovelhead Hudis Muffakah Sat, 07/14/2018 - 07:11 Permalink

I love these free IP guys.

Yeah, I should invest all my time and money into developing and producing a new product so someone else can come along and make a cheaper knock off that won't allow me to recoup costs and profit from my efforts.

Why waste time on innovation and development of anything? Better off playing golf and snorting cocaine.

"Fuck that stupid computer idea...Have a bump."

In reply to by Hudis Muffakah