The Air Force Spent Over $300,000 on 391 Special Coffee Mugs

As it turns out, the 3D-printed solution costs 50 cents


|||U.S. Air Force/Sipa USA/Newscom
U.S. Air Force/Sipa USA/Newscom

If you think you're paying too much for coffee, you've got nothing on the U.S. Air Force, which spent roughly $300,000 just on custom coffee mugs over the course of two years.

A Fox News report alleges that the Air Force spent an exorbitant amount of money on specialty coffee mugs for the 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force base in California. The metal mugs have the ability to reheat beverages while air refueling tankers are in flight. As cool as the feature sounds, the mug's shape makes it highly susceptible to shattering when dropped…which happens frequently. The cost of a single mug has doubled from $693 in 2016 to $1,280 in 2018. At the time of the report, Project On Government Oversight's Dan Grazier said that the mugs' intended purpose of aiding "the crew's alertness by providing caffeine" could be similarly achieved "with a few cans of Red Bull."

On October 2, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) sent a letter to Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, inquiring about the report, which had originally stated that the branch spent $56,000 replacing mugs over the course of two years. Wilson responded several weeks later, stating that the purchase of 391 cups over the course of two years actually cost $326,785. New mugs were purchased each time the cups were broken as replacement parts were reportedly unavailable. As for the doubling in price, Wilson said that the suppliers who produced parts for older aircraft have either shut down production or gone out of business altogether. The higher costs were also blamed on rising costs of raw materials like copper and chrome.

The Air Force has since offered other solutions to lower costs. Wilson said the Air Force recently explored its ability to 3D print replacement parts. In fact, the new 3D printed handles are rounded in such a way that reduces a weak point in the mug that often leads to shattering. The 3D printed handles could also be produced at 50 cents a piece, which is significantly cheaper than purchasing a whole new mug.

The Air Force's mugs are hardly its first waste scandal, nor is it the first time 3D printing has been offered as a solution to reduce costs. According to the initial Fox News report, the Air Force came under fire for spending $10,000 on a C-5 toilet seat lid. The service branch was able to 3D print a replacement seat for $300. Other waste scandals included $659 ashtrays for aircrafts.

The problem also extends beyond the Air Force. In 2017, the Marine Corps reportedly paid $64,000 for a $4,000 cable.

President Trump signed an $82 billion spending increase for the Pentagon in August 2018. The increase alone dwarfed other military budgets across the world. Though the administration has painted spending increases as a way to "rebuild" the American military, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of coffee-mug-like cases showing that the Pentagon treats its budget like monopoly money.