WASHINGTON—Escalating recent budgetary disputes with the White House over military spending, members of Congress signaled their hesitance Thursday to curtail funding for the M114 Armored Combat Vehicle, a midsize tank whose sole capability is spinning 360 degrees in place and then exploding.
The 70-ton tactical battle tank commonly known as the Dervish, which reportedly has a price tag of $95 million per vehicle and is said to begin emitting volatile, combustible fumes and sending off a dangerous fountain of sparks immediately after it is started, has been called a vital asset to national security by top congressmen on both sides of the aisle. While detractors have attempted to defund the project over the years due to its ballooning cost and the loss of every vehicle so far deployed, advocates have been able to preserve the program from cuts, hailing the tank’s rightward-only movement and propensity to ignite in a towering fireball as the centerpiece of America’s war effort.
“At a time when protecting United States interests at home and abroad has never been more important, we simply cannot afford to compromise our military’s ability to drive a tank repeatedly in a circle as gigantic flames shoot out of every opening on its surface,” said House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), an outspoken proponent for continued funding of the program, which has consumed over 81 billion taxpayer dollars since its inception. “Cutting production of the Dervish merely because it is able to do nothing more than leave circular treadmarks and a smoking crater where it once stood would not only be irresponsible, it would leave the nation unequipped for the armed conflicts of tomorrow and put every citizen of this country at risk.”
“Frankly, it’s indicative of the diminished role in international leadership the White House sees for America that they are even willing to consider sacrificing such a critical piece of defense technology,” McKeon continued. “Do we really want the 1,800 U.S. servicemen who have so far died while using this piece of technology to have given their lives in vain? That seems to be what the president wants.”
First developed in 1987 as part of a revitalized defense program, the M114 has become a key point of debate in Washington’s budgetary battles. Skirmishes over the Dervish date back to the early 1990s, when the program was plagued by mechanical flaws that prevented the tank from spinning at all and caused it to blow up while it sat motionless on the battlefield, a technical glitch that took nine years to fix.
Even after spinning capabilities were added, opponents have continued to question the necessity of a combat vehicle that cannot move in any direction except a 20-foot-wide loop, must be airlifted from place to place, and lacks any optical periscope or visual display monitor, a feature many note has left American drivers completely blind to both enemy combatants and friendly forces before their vehicle bursts into a ball of flaming shrapnel.
However, arguments against the Dervish have been consistently defeated by deep-pocketed defense lobbyists and the program’s vocal advocates in Congress, in particular Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), whose district is home to the production facility that builds the M114 along with its amphibious assault vehicle cousin the AAV-A5, which is capable of both spinning wildly and violently exploding on land or in water.
Those who support the M114 program regard the tank as one of the most advanced forms of weaponry ever produced, noting that it has time and again proven itself capable of efficiently eliminating enemy soldiers who happen to stray within the vehicle’s unpredictable blast range. Still, representatives from the White House question the usefulness and efficiency of such technology in a rapidly modernizing world where wars increasingly take place in cyberspace and not on battlefields pockmarked with the smoldering remains of dozens of tanks that have almost instantaneously blown up after deployment.
“Admittedly, some American soldiers stuck within the vehicle compartment have unfortunately been unable to escape within the 10- to 25-second window of time between when the tank is started and when its parts are violently ejected across a combat zone,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told reporters, referring to the nearly 95 percent fatality rate for those assigned to operate the vehicle. “But that only makes investment in this promising program’s future all the more important.”
“The bottom line is that despite whatever weaknesses these machines may have, more Americans might—conceivably—die if it is taken off the battlefield,” Thornberry added. “And I’m just not willing to have that conversation.”
Regardless of the final outcome of the debate, officials confirmed the $601 billion defense budget passed Thursday would still be large enough to accommodate continued funding for the F-130 Flying Tinderbox fighter jet and the RIM-190 Boomerang surface-to-air missile, which flies in erratic loops and switchbacks after it is fired, causing artillery soldiers to duck as it passes over their heads several times before it ultimately returns to blow up the missile launcher.