The U.S. Air Force Has Spent $326,785 on Mugs Because Employees Keep Breaking Them

The collection of mugs sitting in your kitchen cabinet likely includes a handful of Ikea pieces, maybe a sloppy teacup that your ex made in a college pottery class, and probably a diverse spread of promotional mugs that came free at some event you only remember due to its corresponding ceramics. The net worth is 20 bucks on a good day.

The U.S. Air Force, however, is spending $1,280 a unit. And apparently, service members keep dropping them, which has cost the military branch $326,785 in mug replacements in only the last two years. We could probably send six smart kids to college for free if the Air Force got better at not dropping mugs.

In September, news reports indicated that Fairfield, California’s 60th Aerial Port Squadron spent $56,000 on metal coffee mugs over the past three years. The Air Force then spent $9,630 on a set of ten mugs two years ago, and $32,000 this year for 25 more of the things.

If you’re wondering why these exceptionally fragile mugs cost the equivalent of monthly rent in Manhattan, it’s because they plug directly into the outlets on Cargo planes in order to self-heat. To put it simply, your coffee won’t get cold. And while admittedly your caffeine intake is extremely important if you’re going to operate an airplane late at night, is the suitable temperature of your English Breakfast Tea worth $1,280?

And why are the lavish mugs more susceptible to shattering than the Tostitos salsa jar you’ve been drinking coffee out of for the past three years?

In response the reports, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley took it upon himself to write a letter to the powers that be, chastising them for their poor use of capital. “Every dollar that is spent on overpriced spare parts or replacement hot cups is a dollar that should’ve been spent on ensuring our national defense,” he wrote. 

Heather Wilson, the Secretary of the Air Force responded last week, explaining that, “Because [the mug] connects to the aircraft, replacements require FAA airworthiness certification. The Air Force has purchased 391 of these items since 2016 at a total cost of $326,785.”

Fortunately, the Force has discovered a 3D printing artist who thinks he can solve the problem. The mugs can’t be replaced with a printer, but the handles, which seem to be the most prone to shattering, can. “The handle we designed is stronger and capable of being printed at most Air Force bases,” 3D printer designer Nicholas Wright explained. A prototype has been sent over to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center for review, so keep your fingers crossed.

On the bright side, Wilson explained in her letter that the bulk-purchasing of thousand-dollar mugs earns us a discount. In our most recent order, each cost us a mere $835.76. Phew.

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Eliza Dumais is a news writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter for proof.