Everyone knows that running the military is expensive. When you think about the equipment, personnel and supplies constantly criss-crossing the world, it’s small wonder that the annual US Defense budget comes in at a whopping $590bn. Whether we like it or not, war is expensive. No one likes to see the powers that be cutting corners, putting soldiers lives and the lives of those that they are supposed to protect at risk. That being said, a recent news story has revealed that it we shouldn’t automatically assume that everyone’s money is always being spent sensibly.
An enquiry held earlier this month by senator Chuck Grassley found that the United States Air Force had been spending an extraordinary sum of money on special “hot cups” for their coffee. The specially designed cups have the ability to reheat cold beverages when you’re in the middle of a flight. All well and good. Unfortunately, the mugs in question cost around $1280 each.
In early October, a baffled Grassley contacted Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, demanding to know how it was possible to spend the same amount of money you would on a small car on a coffee cup. According to Grassley’s calculations, purchasing and maintaining the Air Force’s supply of cups had cost about $56,000 over three years - a little steep by any stretch of the imagination. Unbeknownst to Grassley, the situation was even worse than he knew.
In Wilson’s response letter, it became clear that not only did the cups cost a lot to begin to begin with, but that they were liable to break every time they were accidentally bumped or dropped. According to an increasingly embarrassed Wilson, the Air Force had actually purchased and repaired “391 of these items since 2016, at a total cost of $326,785.”
This revelation begs two immediately obvious questions. Firstly, who on earth thought that it was a good idea to spend that much on coffee cups? Secondly, was there no cheaper way to get Air Force personnel the mugs they need? To the second point, Wilson offered some explanation, telling an increasingly exasperated Grassley that the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office had been directed to “further explore agile manufacturing (3D printing, cold spray, digital modeling, etc.) to develop and deliver parts at a fraction of the costs using traditional manufacturing.” Though 3D printing handles might save some cash in the long run, it doesn’t help anyone understand why pilots all need $1,000 coffee mugs.
No one wants the women and men who serve to feel short changed in their career. It’s only fair that those who risk their lives looking after the rest of us get to enjoy a few creature comforts. That being said, equipping everyone with the world’s most expensive coffee cups seems a little extra, even for those in the line of duty. For the sake of enjoying a hot cup of joe at 30,000 feet, surely we can just get everyone a thermos. It might not be as snazzy, but at least it won’t cost $1,000 every time you accidentally drop it on the floor.