No, that’s not a joke on the headline. The US Air Force notoriously spent a whopping $1,200 (per cup) or a total of $300,000 from 2016 to 2018 to buy coffee cups. What can the cups do? They can reheat coffee and tea on air refueling tankers. That does seem pretty handy, and the Air Force is well known for being the service branch most dedicated to comfort items for its personnel.

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 60th Aerial Port Squadron perform a cargo load during a readiness exercise at Travis Air Force Base, California, May 7, 2019 (DVIDS). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/5343916/travis-air-force-base-exercise
US Air Force Airmen assigned to the 60th Aerial Port Squadron perform a cargo load during a readiness exercise at Travis Air Force Base, California, May 7, 2019 (DVIDS)

What a time to reminisce the good old days when the US Air Force shelled out $1,200 on a metal cup that almost always broke when you dropped it. In 2018, the 60th Aerial Port Squadron stated it spent $56,000 to replace these broken cups over the past three years. It was said that the handles of these army coffee cups were insanely fragile due to their square and sharp shape, and you can’t order replacement parts – so they just had to order new ones.

 

“The handle currently on the hot cup has a square bottom which creates a weak point on the handle, so any time it is dropped, the handle splits shortly after impact,” said the Travis Air Base officials.

The solution? They had the Travis Air Force Base’s Phoenix Spark Innovation Program  3-D print the handles, which were designed with a curved handle so it wouldn’t be so fragile. In 2016, the 60th Aerial Port Squadron also bought 10 of these army coffee cups for $9,630, where the price increased from $693 to $1,220. In the end, they spent $32,000 for 25 hot cups.

Military onlookers and US citizens alike criticized the Air Force for spending so much on such simple problems that could be solved with simple solutions – like buying normal coffee mugs or portable coffee tumblers. Former Marine Corps Tank Officer Dan Grazier said it was an example of the military overspending on simple items, like that one time the US spent $10,000 on toilet seat covers.

“They are working through all the processes, quality standards, and materials to try and put out a playbook on how we can 3D print the handle, so it’s approved to be on an Air Force aircraft,” said the 60th Air Mobility Wing in a statement in 2018.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuck_Grassley_(24970129784).jpg
US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of AmericaCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

Instead of purchasing coffee cups at $1,220 per cup, they reported that they could 3-D print a replacement handle for about 50 cents. Dr. Heather Wilson, who was the Air Force Secretary at that time, reported to Senator Chuck Grassley that the Air Force had spent a total of $326,785 on 400 army coffee cups since 2016.

We did some checking and the coffee cup in question is not the ultra high tech hot beverage container made of nano-tubes coated with pure Unobtainium.  It is a copy of a heated cup first made in the 1950s called, “The Helmco-Lacy Nestle’s Label Chocolate Hot Cup Warmer Heater.”  We found one on WorthPoint that sold for about $100 bucks.

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