Cold War Romanian Armor Modern Romanian Armor

T-72 Ural-1 in Romanian Service

Socialist Republic of Romania/Romania (1978-2005)
Main Battle Tank – 31 Purchased from USSR

Romania is relatively well-known for its own tank development projects, such as the TR-85-800 and TR-77-580, the latter entering production in 1978. Yet, just the previous year, after increasing pressure for rearmament for the Warsaw Pact members, the Socialist Republic of Romania purchased 31 T-72 Ural-1 tanks, partially to use as an ‘elite’ battle tank, but most importantly, to use for its own tank development program – the TR-125. The T-72 in Romanian service spent most of its time in absolute secrecy. They were first seen in the December 1989 revolution, where even other Romanian tankers thought it was foreign, and allegedly fired upon them. After the Revolution, they would see regular service alongside other tanks. They were retired prematurely in 2005 with great controversy. They have since disappeared, last time being seen in a degraded state in 2014. One T-72 remains in public view at the King Ferdinand National Military Museum in Bucharest.

One of the 5 T-72s at Pitesti during a parade, 2009.
Source: Resboiu


In the mid-1970s, the Socialist Republic of Romania sought to upgrade and modernize its weapons arsenal massively, partly from purchasing vehicles from the USSR, partially from license production of both Eastern and Western products. A new main battle tank (MBT) was a priority. At the time, Romania only had T-34-85 and T-55 tanks in service, as well as its own tank development program, which would result in the TR-77-580, with production starting in 1978.

This rearmament plan was partly triggered by Commander-in-Chief of the Warsaw Pact and Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Yakubovsky, who claimed:

“Every military should have its own units equipped with the most modern types of armament and military technology, for the timely training of ranks for new equipment and gathering experience in using and mastering the equipment.”

To put Soviet Marshal I. Yakubovsky’s idea in practice, in April 1977, Romanian Minister of Defence, General-Colonel Ion Coman, at the alleged indication of Secretary General and leader Nicolae Ceaușescu, sent a letter to the Soviet Minister of Defence Marshal of the Soviet Union, D.F. Ustinov, about the purchase of a battalion of new T-72 tanks. The request was approved by Ustinov, and on 30 August, Ion Coman would send a letter to Ceaușescu stating that the order for 31 T-72 Ural-1 tanks was approved by the USSR.

General-Colonel Ion Coman, Minister of Defense between 1976 and 1980. He would be stripped of his military rank and sentenced to 20 years in jail at a trial in 1991 for his actions in the Revolution.
Source: MApN

Between 1978 and 1979, the Socialist Republic of Romania purchased 31 T-72 tanks from the USSR, in a contract worth 150 million Lei ($12.62 million dollars in 1979, around $52 million in 2022). The contract also included maintenance, ammunition, and troop training costs, and a ‘dummy’ tank for training.

The first T-72 tanks were delivered in 1978 to the 1st Tank Regiment “Vlad Țepeș” (Vlad the Impaler). Although they were produced in 1978, the tanks were not brand new, and had been used either in quality tests or exercises, as spent shell casings were found inside, spare parts and auxiliary tools were used, as well as there being a handful of kilometers on the board. In addition to the 31 functional tanks, Romania also acquired a simulation and training vehicle (no armor and static) as well as extra turrets (used for the TR-125 development).

T-72 Ural-1

In the late 1960s, Factory No.183, Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) would develop its own T-64 upgrade out of its own initiative. The main goals were to be cheaper, simpler, and more reliable than the T-64, allowing for easy mass-production, while still using the main advantages of the T-64. It used many turret and hull components of the T-64, as well as the D-81 125 mm gun. It was equipped with a V-45 780 hp engine, requiring a longer hull than that of the T-64. In January 1968, after its completion, it was named Object 172. In 1971, an improved version was made, using the lower hull and running gear from the Object 167, becoming the Object 172M.

It entered service in 1974 with great controversy. Many saw it as a waste of resources. For example, UVZ factory director I.F. Krutyakov put it as a “tactical mistake”. But the need of replacing the T-55 with a new MBT was growing, and the T-72 would end up being produced at 4 factories and becoming one of the most influential, mass-produced, and iconic MBTs of the Cold War, with countless variants, exports, and uses in combat.

The T-72 featured an 125 mm 2A26M gun with a 22 round carousel autoloading system (an extra 17 rounds were stored outside the carousel), needing just 3 crewmembers, commander, gunner, and driver. Secondary armament consisted of a 7.62 mm PKT coaxial machine gun and a 12.7 mm NSVT anti-aircraft machine gun. Armor (for the early variants) consisted of an upper frontal plate angled at 68º with 80+105+20 mm thick plates. The cast rounded turret was 410 mm thick. Later models would employ various types of ERA and add-on armor, as well as many adjustments to plate thickness and materials.

In December 1975, an upgraded variant of the T-72 would enter service as the T-72 Ural-1, developed at UVZ under leadership of V.N. Venediktov. It differed from the base T-72 models with improved armored protection, thermal sleeve on the gun barrel, and an infrared searchlight to the right of the main gun. In total, 5,250 such tanks would be produced between 1976 and 1980.

Romanian T-72 Ural-1 with its ‘gill’ armor still in place, early 2000s.
Source: Lt. Col. I.Trofimov

Operation – the 1st Tank Regiment “Vlad Țepeș”

The city of Târgoviște was arguably one of the best geographical area for a tank regiment, north of the Muntenian plains and south of the Carpathian mountains. The geographical-strategic advantage of the city had been well-known long before, having served as a capital for Wallachia (Valahia/Țara Românească) between 1396 and 1714. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were proposals to move the capital of Romania to Târgoviște, especially since there was only a 80 km distance between it and Bucharest. In 1872, a cannon factory was built there, which would later act as a maintenance center for artillery, known as Arsenalul Armatei (Eng: The Army Arsenal).

On 6 December 1919, after just 2 months of existence at Giurgiu, the first Romanian tank regiment was moved to the Târgoviște garnison. A year later, after a decree by King Ferdinand, the first Romanian Tank Regiment was created, Regimentul Care de Luptă (Eng: The Battle Tank Regiment) taking effect on 1 January 1921, consisting of 2 tank battalions. In the 1930s, the regiment increased to 3 battalions, receiving new Renault R-35 and Škoda R-2 tanks. In 1939, after a second tank regiment was formed, the Târgoviște regiment was renamed to Regimentul 1 Care de Luptă (Eng: Regiment 1 Battle Tanks). During the Second World War, the regiment, under the 1st Armored Division, fought against the Soviets in the liberation of Bessarabia (Basarabia) and Northern Bukovina (Bucovina), as well as the offensive into Odessa and Stalingrad. After the 23 August 1944 switch to the Allied side, the regiment would defend Transylvania and fight into Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. In 1974, the regiment was renamed 1st Tank Regiment “Vlad Țepeș”.

Renault FT tanks of the Romanian Tank Regiment in Bucharest, 10 May 1925.
Source: Trupele Blindate din Armata Romana 1919-1947

The T-72 Ural-1 tanks were kept under utmost secrecy and incorporated into their own, independent tank battalion, which was isolated from the rest of the regiment, with exercises and training being done separately. Access to the training polygons was prohibited to members of other units, such as other tank, infantry, and artillery units from the base. Access to the tank facilities could only be done by the tank battalion members, who required a special permit. The unit’s members themselves were recruited after several checks to prove their loyalty to the party and trustworthiness.

The T-72 battalion was very well equipped for Romanian standards. The T-72 tanks were housed in a specially built ventilated warehouse, allowing to run the engines inside. Their unit included a specific “tancodrom”, a training area specially designed for various tank exercises and training, railway with loading platform directly in the barracks and tank storage area, firing range, water crossing and fording trench, ammunition depot, and training halls.

The tanks were kept secret until the Revolution of 1989. The tanks had not been shown to the general public or even other tankers since their introduction. Few tank officers ever got the chance to see them. Former commander of the 1st Tank Battalion “Vlad Țepeș” and blogger, Lieutenant-Colonel Ifrim Trofimov, has written a series of blog posts covering his experiences with the tank. He describes seeing the T-72 for the first time, after being a tanker since 1978 on both the T-34-85 and T-55:

“In 1984, when I was at a company commander training course, in Făgăraș, I saw it for the first time.

It was on a trailer, towed by a Tatra truck, covered by a tarpaulin. Even though we were tens of tank officers, many of us being company commanders, we were not allowed to see it, satisfying ourselves with its silhouette, and whatever we could see from under the tarpaulin: tracks, roadwheels and the gun barrel.”

Czechoslovakian TATRA 813 prime mover transporting a T-55AM, early 2000s.
Source: Lars Erik Salo via Pinterest
The T-72 ‘dummy’ rig for maintenance and technical training.
Source: Lt. Col. I.Trofimov

At the beginning of the 1980s, just a few years after the T-72 was purchased, Interarms attempted to purchase 2 such tanks from Romania. Interarms was a company based in London, claiming that they were willing to purchase armament, equipment and ammunition worth $22 million for a state in the Persian Gulf region. Romanian officials realized that the T-72 tanks were the actual target and that they would end up in the US. The contract did not go through.

T-72 at the Revolution – Petty Combat

During the Romanian Revolution, the military was called in to Bucharest by then Minister of Defence Vasile Milea to defend the Communist regime from the anti-regime protesters in the streets. The following regiments were called in:

  • Bucharest 1st Mechanized Regiment (equipped with TR-85-800s)
  • Bucharest 20th Tank Regiment
  • Caracal 68th Tank Regiment (equipped with T-55s)
  • Târgoviște 1st Tank Regiment (equipped with T-72s)

The Caracal 68th Tank Regiment was in the midst of switching from the T-55 to the TR-85-800 when the Revolution began. The Caracal regiment was called in to Bucharest on 19 December and were to equip wartime munitions. Choosing the T-55 tanks over the TR-85-800s, according to a platoon leader, 50 tanks (64 according to other veterans) drove the nearly 200 km with a speed of “no less than 40 km/h” and with “sparks coming from our tracks”.

Prior to entering Bucharest, Major Marchiș had told the tankers, “Warning. From this moment, there’s death! There’s shots, we don’t know from where, there are terrorists, we can always have surprises!”

The unit moved slowly towards the Palace Plaza, but was ordered to defend the Ghencea ammunition depot, as allegedly tanks captured by the “terrorists” were approaching it and wanted to blow it up. Naturally, the tankers from 68th Tank Brigade were not informed about what troops were already in, or about to enter Bucharest. Unfortunately, as the 68th Tank Regiment spent most of its time in Ghencea, on the outskirts of Bucharest, there are no period photographs of their T-55 tanks.

T-55 of the 20th Tank Regiment at the Palace Plaza, in front of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, after the military had joined the fight against Ceausescu alongside the population.
Source: Mediafax

According to the historical register of the Târgoviște regiment, it was called in towards Bucharest on December 22 at 20:20, with a tank column ready for march in 10 minutes. Part of the tanks were to be under command of the 1st Army, and part in direct command of the MApN headquarters. On 23 December, the tanks were searching the areas in Bucharest where “terrorist activities” had been performed, at the request of the MApN. When, at the Northern Station (Gara de Nord) the column was attacked and dispersed, the tanks lost communication between each other. Towards the evening, the tanks were ordered towards Ghencea cemetery to “destroy the terrorist group from the cemetery”. Here, 3 tanks opened fire at a house next to the cemetery. An unnamed tank officer, which had previously been at the construction of the Casa Poporului (Ceaușescu’s large palace), had contacted one of the officers from the tank regiment as to why they were firing upon the house and advised them to stop. In an attempt to convince himself and the tankers that there was no danger, the man went to the house, where he discovered on the other side of the street, 3 TAB APCs with several soldiers in firing positions. The 3 TABs were firing upon the same house as the Târgoviște tankers had. He convinced them to stop, as they were at risk of hitting the tanks on the other side. He was hit in the chest by bullets shortly after and taken home by a civilian for care.

As virtually nobody had seen a T-72 in Romania before, including officers, these were thought at first to be the foreign or “terrorist” tanks. News had already spread about Soviet tanks on the eastern border and the threat of Soviet regular forces entering the country. Other false news, both from media and from civilians, about terrorists with unknown tanks appearing out of nowhere came to the tankers.

Two T-72 tanks from the Târgoviște Regiment in central Bucharest on Christmas Eve 1989. Note that the muzzle cover is still on.
Source: Cartula

Thus, the inevitable happened. On the 24 December 1989, in the first tank-on-tank combat of the Romanian Army since the Second World War, a single (or several, considering the amount of shots fired) T-55 from the 68th Tank Regiment opened fire on a T-72, the tank crew likely not recognizing the T-72 tank type. Thankfully, the T-72s were not equipped with live ammunition (of which there was very little, as it was the only unit to operate the 125 mm gun). Consequently, the T-72 crew attempted to drive away. The tank was struck in the engine bay, but the automatic fire extinguisher system prevented any disaster and the crew was able to exit the tank. The action was recalled by retired Deputy Sergeant Marin Oane from the 68th Caracal tank regiment in an interview:

“We fired upon that tank, it was said that it had been captured by the terrorists and came to blow up the (Ghencea) depot. They were actually our colleagues from Târgoviște.”

The tank combat story, according to the Târgoviște regiment historical register, was slightly different. On 24 December, a T-72 was struck by a TR-85-800 from the 1st Mechanized Regiment and 3 other T-72s acted to deter the attack. However, in the detailed memoirs of General Marin Oană (Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Mechanized Regiment) about the actions during those days, he does not mention of any contact with tanks from the 1st Tank Regiment.

At an unclear date, the T-72 tank was recovered and sent to Mizil for repairs. At the installations, Ifrim Trofimov was able to get a look at the damage done. In total, 5 (4 according to the unit commander at the time) shots had hit the T-72 (in unknown order):

  • Shell 1: Likely an HE-FRAG, exploded on impact with the antenna mount, melting the antenna and scraping off the paint.
  • Shell 2: Also an HE-FRAG, hit the right rear fender, damaging it and bursting an external fuel tank.
  • Shell 3: Also an HE-FRAG, hit the left side of the rear armor plate, denting it.
  • Shell 4: A BK-412 AP- HEAT round penetrated the tank, right at the welding between the rear plate and the left sidewall. The cumulative molten jet had penetrated the armor and entered the engine compartment.
  • Shell 5: Also a BK-412 AP-HEAT, penetrated through the exhaust and into the engine compartment.
One of the most iconic and cinematic pictures of the Romanian revolution. This T-72 has several civilians on its engine deck, sometime between 22 and 25 December 1989.
Source: Ullsten bild – Reuters

Post-1989 & Dissolution

After the Revolution, between 1992 and 1995, the unit was reorganized by the C.S.A.T. (Supreme Council of National Defense). Firstly, the T-72 tanks were no longer a secret, and would be incorporated into a complete tank battalion, with 30 T-72s and 10 T-55AM2s, renamed to the 1st Tank Battalion “Vlad Țepeș”. The new organization, which was applied to all tank units, was as follows: a tank platoon had 4 tanks, a tank company had 13 tanks (4 platoons of 3 tanks each plus a command tank), while a tank battalion had 40 tanks (3 companies of 13 tanks each and one battalion command tank). A single tank battalion was part of a mechanized regiment. The Târgoviște Regiment had an additional 108 tanks, 12 SU-100 SPGs, as well as various APCs, Malyutka-equipped BRDM-2s, and more.

As Romania was preparing to join NATO, the military underwent drastic changes. Many systems and equipment had been retired and subsequently scrapped or sold off. Romania’s military would change its military from a massed conscript force to a professional Western-style army. Concerning the tank forces, this meant that Romania would only have 5 tank battalions.

Signs that the T-72 would be phased out came as early as September 2001, when live-fire training of tankers would be done on TR-77-580, after training on the T-72, which it operated. Worthy to add is how different the 2 tanks were, as the TR-77-580 had a manually loaded 100 mm gun, as opposed to the autoloading 125 mm gun of the T-72.

Structural changes were implemented in June 2002, with the entire regiment being decreased in size and structural and bureaucratic functions removed. During the same period, the new TR-85M1 (upgraded TR-85-800) was supplied, and crews began training on it.

In 2004, the C.S.A.T. officially disbanded the 1st Târgoviște Battalion, ending an 86 year old tank tradition at the Târgoviște garrison. In January 2005, the tanks were transported away on flatbeds, 5 sent to Pitești and the remaining 25 sent to a storage facility in Voluntari, northern Bucharest. From there, they ended up in the yard of the UMB factory (Uzina Mecanica București), where the last picture of them was taken in 2014. They have since disappeared.

Memorial plaque with the names of the commanders of the 1st Tank Battalion “Vlad Tepeș”, 1957-2005.
Source: Lt. Col. Ifim Trofimov

Why the T-72 tanks were taken out of service remains a mystery, with no official answer ever given. Lt. Cl. I. Trofimov, who was assigned battalion commander of the troublesome T-72 battalion in 2001, blames it on the stupidity of higher-ups, an idea slung around far too often both in terms of Romanian military and industry. According to him, in 2005, when the tanks were sent away for storage, they still had 6 spare guns, 21 unused engines, and a host of spare parts. In contrast, according to other sources, the number of usable tanks decreased rapidly in the last few years of service. Allegedly, 28 were functional in 1995. By 1998, it dropped to 15, and in the 2000s, as low as 12. Why they were not repaired with the aforementioned abundance of spare parts remains a mystery, though funding and lack of skilled mechanics on the tank and specific systems could have been an answer.

By joining NATO in 2004, Romania broke its already dwindling relations with Russia, and any hopes of securing further spares, and most importantly, ammunition, were gone. This explains why there were no longer any firing trials with the T-72’s main gun. With little ammunition left, the remaining stocks were saved for potential use in combat, and ultimately, the tanks were no longer worthy of active use and training. Consequently, the tanks were withdrawn from service with the 1st Tank Battalion “Vlad Țepeș”. By the 2010s, 29 (remaining one was sent to the King Ferdinand Military Museum) T-72 tanks were listed up for sale by Romtehnica, the defense trading company of the Romanian Ministry of Defense.

The T-72 at the King Ferdinand National Military Museum in Bucharest. Note the larger TR-125 (P-125 to highlight that it is a prototype) to its right.
Source: Author’s collection

In spring 2022, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were rumors on social media about Romania donating its remaining T-72 tanks to Ukraine. While Romania has shipped over $3 million worth of gear, ammunition, and provisions, heavy equipment, such as unoperational T-72s, have never been considered publicly, although some Romanian-produced TAB-71Ms have appeared in Kherson. If these tanks still exist and were not scrapped or sold by 2022 is up to question.

At least 11 T-72 tanks rotting at UMB Bucharest in 2014. They have since been removed.
Source: Victor Samartinean

114th Tank Battalion “Petru Cercel”

On 1 October 2009, the C.S.A.T. would reinstate armored forces in Târgoviște, with the creation of the 114th Tank Battalion “Petru Cercel”. However, the Battalion would be equipped with 54 aging T-55 and T-55AM/AM2 tanks, essentially replacing a T-72 battalion with a T-55 battalion over a period of 5 years. The Battalion is active to this day.

Detachment of 3 T-55s and a T-55AM during the ARGEDAVA 21 exercise, 2021.
Source: MApN Facebook

TR-125 (P-125)

After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Ceaușescu’s heavy criticism of it, Romania’s military attempted to decrease its reliance on Soviet weapons imports, and turned towards Western countries for patents and technology. In terms of tanks, this meant the development of the TR-77-580. Based on the Soviet T-55, it saw improvements on paper, but, due to Romania’s lack of experience in the field, had several production and technical issues. Shortly after, in 1986, the TR-85-800 would begin production. Largely based on its predecessor, it saw major improvements, such as an 800 hp engine, reverse engineered from the German Leopard 1.

After Romania purchased the T-72 from the Soviets, it intended to locally produce it as well, just like the Yugoslavs had done with the M-84. A production patent was requested, but it was not granted by the Soviet government. Thus, Romania began reverse engineering the T-72, in what would become the TR-125. The T-72, and in turn the TR-125, were meant as a sort of “elite” battle tank, operating independently and in significantly fewer numbers to the T-55s, TR-77-580s, and TR-85-800s. However, due to the fall of the Communist regime and in turn Cold War, massive military budget cuts and privatization of many enterprises sentenced the TR-125 project to a slow demise. Recognizing that the TR-125 was clearly obsolete as a new MBT by the 90s, in the 2000s,the TR-2000 program was born. Several new tank models would be designed with the help of Krauss-Maffei and their components, while keeping the TR-125 as a basis. The project was too expensive and cancelled. Instead, the TR-85-800 were upgraded to the NATO-standard TR-85M1.

One of the 10 TR-125 prototypes, now exhibited at the King Ferdinand National Military Museum in Bucharest.
Source: Flickr

Type 64

During the many Sino-Romanian armament negotiations, the Chinese were able to learn that Romania had purchased 31 T-72 tanks from the USSR. This move fit the Chinese interests very well, as they had been searching for Soviet T-72s to be able to develop a new generation of MBTs. The Chinese offered fighter jets (likely of Soviet origin) or Harbin H-5 bombers and tank maintenance equipment in exchange of 1 T-72 Ural-1. Whatever the final offer was, the Romanians accepted and the tank was dismantled on Romanian soil, packed into containers and shipped to China. The tank was given the codename Type 64. The vehicle was reassembled without technical instructions in China and tested significantly. With information gathered from it, the Chinese were able to develop a new generation MBT, the Type 96 (Type 96). The vehicle is now somewhere in Inner Mongolia, China.

The Type 64 in more recent years. Note that the ‘gill’ armor and 12.7 mm NSVT machine gun have been removed.
Source: Voodoo_Six_one via WT forums


The T-72 was one of the most iconic MBTs of the Cold War and remains widely used to this day. Romania purchased 31 such tanks from the USSR in the late 1970s and kept them under extreme secrecy until the 1989 Revolution. Since then, the tanks operated normally all throughout the 1990s, until it was decided to remove them from service, arguably prematurely, and send them into storage. The Romanian T-72s were also crucial in the development of Romania’s own tank program, in the form of the TR-125, but also the sale of a single model to China, which renamed it Type 64 and triggered their Second Generation MBT development.

T-72 as seen during the Revolution. Illustration by David Bocquelet.
T-72 with fish gill sideskirts. Illustration by Pavel Alexe based on work by David Bocquelet.

T-72 Ural-1 in Romanian service specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.53 (incl.gun) – 3.59 – 2.23 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 41.5 tonnes
Crew 3; commander, gunner, driver
Propulsion 780 hp diesel, V-12 config.
Speed ~60 km/h
Armament 125 mm 2A26M autoloader
7.62 mm PKT machine gun (coaxial)
12.7 mm NSVT machine gun (roof-mounted AA
Armor UFP angled @ 68 deg. 80+105+20 (mm)
Frontal turret: Ca. 410 mm
Side turret: Ca. 210 mm
Side hull: 80 mm
Hull deck: 20 mm
Hull belly: 20 mm
Total Purchased 31 purchased + 1 training dummy


Trupele Blindate din Armata Română 1919-1947 – Cornel I. Scafes, Horia V. Serbanescu, Ioan I. Scafes
Buletinul Arhivelor Militare Române Nr.90 2020 – Petre Opris
tROfi: Despre T 72-ul dâmboviţean (1) ( – Cl. (r) Ifrim Trofimov
Organizarea unitatilor de tancuri in Armata Romana – Romania Military ( – Cl. (r) Ifrim Trofimov Cl. (r) Ifrim Trofimov
rechizitoriu_revolutie_2d8cab0025.pdf ( – (july 2022) Cl. Magistrate Cătălin R. Pițu
“>T-72 “Ural-1” – December 15, 1975 ( – Andrei BT
Object 172M | Tank museum Patriot park Moscow
Amintiri din decembrie ’89: „Dacă n-am încălecat la morţi de m-au găsit loazele, mi-era nu ştiu cum să-i calc cu şenila“ | – Alina Mitran
Cum a devenit Târgovişte punct nevralgic pe harta militară a Europei. Fabrica de tunuri a lui Cuza şi intervenţia imperativă a Rusiei ţariste | – Corina Slamnoiu
Amintiri din ’89. Sute de militari au primit alarma „Radu cel Frumos” | Digi24

Cold War Romanian Armor

TMA-83 and TMA-79

Socialist Republic of Romania (1984-1990)
Medium Artillery Tractor – 200+ Built

The TMA-83 (Tractor Mijlociu de Artilerie, Eng: Medium Artillery Tractor) was a Romanian medium artillery tractor meant to replace Soviet artillery tractors in service, but also work side by side with Soviet counterparts, namely the ATS-59 and ATS-59G. However, due to mechanical problems with the transmission, it was seen as inferior to its Soviet counterparts and was quickly retired.


Throughout the 1950s, of the Romanian military, which, up until then, was just junk and leftovers from the Second World War, underwent a radical restructuring. During this period, various Soviet artillery pieces were purchased, including, among others the 122 mm A-19 and 152 mm ML-20 howitzers. However, by the 1970s, after the deterioration in the relationship between Romania and the Soviet Union, the country set out to build its own artillery pieces. Work began in the late-1970s and. By the 1980s, several howitzers had been created, including the 130 mm Ob.Md.1982, 152 mm Ob.Md.1981 and 152 mm Ob.Md.1985, after licenses from China and USSR. During the 1970s, Romania also purchased newer artillery tractors from the Soviet Union in the form of the ATS-59 and ATS-59G. Previously, artillery prime movers used by Romania were the light AT-L and heavy AT-S 712 and trucks, such as the ZiS-150, which were all growing increasingly obsolete and worn out.

In the mid-1970s, the program to develop domestic artillery tractors based on proven, existing technology began. Thus, the Institutul de Cercetare și Inginerie Tehnologică al Armatei din București (Eng: the Army Development and Technological Engineering Institute in Bucharest), or ICITA, began work on a light artillery tractor based on the Soviet AT-L. The result was the TAR-76, which entered service in 1977, and was intended to tow 122 mm and lower caliber weapons. In 1978, ICITA designed a medium artillery tractor, known as the TMA-79. It used components, such as the engine and running gear, from the ATS-59, but the transmission came from the AT-S 712. One prototype was built at the 102nd Truck and Tank Maintenance Base (nowadays 102nd Maintenance Battalion) in Bucov, in 1979. But, after testing, the vehicle was found to be mechanically unreliable. Thus, the mechanics were reworked, and the vehicle was renamed to TMA-83, and entered production at the Mizil Mechanical Factory in 1984. The first vehicles were delivered to units in 1985.

The TAR-76 light artillery tractor exhibited at the National Military History Museum Ferdinand I in Bucharest. Source: Maquetland


Originally, the TMA-79 medium artillery tractor was intended to be a larger version of the TAR-76 with a 4-door cabin. It used the main components of the Soviet ATS-59, but the conversion was made by switching the hull around (the final drive and sprocket were now in the rear) moving the engine to the front, splitting the frontal section of the cabin in half. Thus, a radiator and air intake were added to the front of the cabin. The main advantage of this was that it now had room for 8 men, including the driver, their personal weapons, food rations, radio, and personal gear. The driver and vehicle commander sat on individual seats on opposite sides of the engine compartment, while the remaining 6 soldiers sat on benches facing each other. Additionally, the cabin was thermally insulated with polystyrene, but not CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) protected via pressure difference, as on the Soviet ATS-59G. On the roof of the cabin, 2 ports were placed, one for the passenger to the right of the engine (usually commander) and one to the passenger behind the driver. Unfortunately, the conversion seems to have been complex, and while it gave advantages even over the ATS-59G, only 1 has been confirmed to have been built. The larger cab did not compromise the area of the flatbed, which was the same as on the ATS-59, essentially using what was ‘dead space’ on the Soviet counterpart.

The vehicle was, however, plagued by a series of mechanical issues. Moving the sprocket, final drive, and entire power transmission to the back, as well as moving the engine and transmission forwards, caused a series of mechanical issues, mostly with the AT-S 712 transmission and the clutch.

One of the few photos of a TMA-79 with the 4-door cab and front mounted engine. Note the rear drive sprocket, as opposed to the frontal one on the TMA-83.
Source: Artileria Română în Date şi Imagini, colorized by Smargd123

Instead of fixing the issues found on the TMA-79, it was decided that it would be faster and cheaper to simply use the readily available chassis found on the ATS-59. As it had the engine mounted in the center of the hull, above the 2nd and 3rd roadwheels, the cab was shortened to a 2-door one, with just 5 seats inside. The front of the cab was also redesigned, with a simple flat face.

TMA-83 Design

As the chassis of the ATS-59 was used, the running gear and lower hull were identical. The driver, on the left side of the cabin, would control the vehicle with 2 tillers, which in turn actuated the 2 clutch multidisc planetary brakes for the final drive. The TMA-83 had a 2-door cabin that could house 5 men on 2 rows, 2 men on each side of the engine, and 3 on a bench behind it. The engine placement was the same as on the original Soviet platforms, in-between the cabin and flatbed. The front of the cabin had a flat, simple face, with 3 horizontal outward grooves. One roof hatch was given to the front-right passenger, usually the vehicle’s commander. This would be used for guidance and communications during maneuvers and for self-defense using personal weapons.

TMA-83 at the Arsenal Park. Note the smaller 2-door cab and centrally-mounted engine, as on the ATS-59. This vehicle also has a dozer blade from an ATS-59G.
Source: Flickr
Soviet ATS-59G at the Romanian military museum Ferdinand I.
Source: Author’s collection

The engine was produced at the Timpuri Noi factory, on the outskirts of Bucharest. It was the D 199-12 V, a direct-injection V-12 diesel with a maximum power of 360 hp at 2,300 rpm. Maximum torque was 1,280 Nm at 1,600 rpm. The gearbox was a planetary disc with 5 forward and 1 reverse gears. Transmission between the engine and gearbox consisted of 2 axles, one of which was connected to a hydrostatic pump which transferred power to the cable winch, and the other axle was connected to the final drive. A preheating system was installed for easier starting of the engine during low temperatures. In case of failures, a manual starter motor had been included. It allowed for one person to start the engine by hand cranking the camshaft at 60 rpm, which was converted into the 200 rpm necessary for starting the engine. Maximum speed was 52 km/h, however, this decreased to 42 km/h when loaded with crew, ammunition, and towing an artillery piece, and further lowered to 25 km/h when driving over rough terrain.

On the flatbed, 4 men could be transported and the necessary ammunition for the towed artillery piece. There was an alarm installed in the cab for notifying the driver if the system towed had unattached by accident. The empty vehicle weighed 15.8 tonnes. The maximum weight on the flatbed was 4 tonnes, while the maximum towing weight was 15 tonnes and the maximum winching weight was 12 tonnes.


As it was intended to be the mainstay for the Romanian artillery tractor park, a few variants were thought out and made on the base of the TMA-83. These were designed and built at the 102nd Maintenance Base. However, due to the unreliability of their base chassis and the unfortunate political time when these vehicles were created, very few were made.


Developed in the mid-1980s, the MHS-125 (Macara Hidraulică pe Senile, Eng: Tracked Hydraulic Crane) was a tracked crane that used the chassis of the TMA-83. The cabin was changed to a smaller glass one for better vision when operating the crane. The engine had also been moved to the back for more operational room for the crane. A total of 4 telescopic arms were mounted on each corner of the chassis for stabilization during lifting operations. The crane itself was a HT-125, built at the Timișoara Mechanical Factory, which was mostly used for civilian vehicles. It had a maximum payload of 12.5 tonnes when the arm was retracted and elevated at 60°, though the range was just 2.25 m. The maximum range was of 11.2 m, achieved when the arm was fully extended and angled at 0°, although the payload decreased to just 1.8 tonnes. Of the few made, some are still used by units, but most have been sold to private collectors.

MHS-125 mobile crane. Note the cabin and rear mounted engine.
Source: Unknown


An attempt from 1987 to make a domestic trench digging machine, the MST-802 (Mașină de Săpat Tranșee, Eng: Machine for Trench Digging) used the TMA-83 chassis. However, the cabin was cut in half to create a one-man glass cabin. The trench digging apparatus was of Soviet origin, borrowed from a BTM-3. It could dig trenches between 270 to 810 m long per hour. Series 0 of production was to start in 1988, but due to performance issues, homologation was postponed until 1990, when the hydraulic installation was reworked. But the original chassis of the TMA-83 proved to be unsuited for the task of a trencher, as the hull sides would warp under the immense stress caused by the trenching operation, and the overall hull was found to be too narrow. Further work on a domestic trencher was to continue through the 1990s, but budget cuts ended all work.

The only available photo of the MST-802, with its trencher extended. Note the 1-man cabin.
Source: Unknown


The TMA-83s were used for towing various heavy howitzers and ammunition. They were also used for accessing remote communities during heavy snows and flooding. According to former mechanics, they were fine machines, when they worked. The main problem was the clutch, which failed often, but the entire transmission proved troublesome. Another issue was the very high fuel consumption. Thus, only 5 years later, when the Communist regime fell and military budgets were cut, the TMA-83 began retirement, as the money was no longer there to keep maintaining and repairing them, as well as satisfy their high fuel consumption. The last examples were retired in 2005. A similar fate was shared by most tracked artillery tractors in Romanian service.

The DAC 665T 6×6 truck first entered production in 1978 and worked hand in hand with artillery tractors in terms of towing and supplies. But, in the 1990s, as they were much cheaper to operate, faster and more reliable, they began replacing the tracked prime movers. In the mid-1980s, the 8×8 DAC 31.320 VFAEG was introduced, and was intended to tow heavy artillery pieces, as well as towing tanks, but only 16 were built. A dozen ATS-59G are still in service in the Romanian forces, towing the Ob.Md.1985, which is too heavy for the DAC-665T to tow.

All TMA-83s were retired by 2005, as Romania joined NATO and retired vast amounts of older equipment. At the moment, at least 4 are put for public display, 2 at the military museum in Constanta, and another 2 at Arsenal Park in Orastie.

ATS-59G towing a Ob.Md.81 near Suceava, 2021.
Source: MApN Facebook
Comparison of some artillery prime movers in Romanian service
Name AT-S (712) ATS-59 ATS-59G TMA-83
Type Medium artillery tractor Medium artillery tractor Medium artillery tractor Medium artillery tractor
Country of origin USSR USSR USSR Romania
Production (year) 1950-1962 1959-1967 1969-1980s 1984-1990
Service in Romania 1950s-2005 1960s-2005 1970s-present 1985-2005
Mass (kg) 12,000 13,000 13,750 15,800
Engine (hp) 275 300 300 360
Fuel consumption (l/100km) 156 150-160 150-160 >100
Range (km) 350 350 (500 with external fuel tanks) 350 (500 with external fuel tanks) 530
Max. speed (km/h) 36 41 45 52
Pulling weight (kg) 14,000 14,000 14,000 15,000
Capacity (cabin + flatbed) 7+10 2+14 6+12 5+4


The TMA-83 was a legitimate attempt to nationalize medium artillery tractor production by using readily available and proven components. However, it was plagued by a series of mechanical issues relating to the gearbox and clutch. Additionally, the overall class of tracked artillery prime movers became more and more obsolete, as they were slow, cumbersome, and expensive to maintain. In contrast, trucks became more and more versatile, and eventually replaced tracked prime movers in most militaries.

TMA-83. Illustration by Pavel Alexe, funded through our Patreon campaign.
TMA-79. Illustration by Pavel Alexe, funded through our Patreon campaign.

TMA-83 Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.88- 2.70- 2.68 m
Total weight, battle-ready 15,800 kg
Crew 12 (8 in cabin, 4 in flatbed) (TMA-79)
9 (5 in cabin, 4 in flatbed) (TMA-83
Propulsion 360 hp D 199-12 V12
Speed 52 km/h
Suspension Torsion bar, 5 wheels per side
Armament N/A
Armor N/A
No. Built Around 200 built


Artileria Romana in date si Imagini – Col. conf. Univ. Dr. Adrian Stroea, Lt. Col. Gheorghe Băjenaru
Tractorul Mijlociu de Artilerie Românesc – Major Eng. Eugen Petre
Sasiu Multifunctional de Geniu – Lt. Col. Eng. Pompiliu Bolan, Eng. Ilie Nicolae
(PDF) Contribuții la istoria dotării cu armament a armatei române între 1944 și 1959 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
(DOC) Evoluția dotării cu automobile a armatei române între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
(PDF) Motorizarea tracțiunii în armata română între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
Tun-obuzier cal. 152 mm (
Tractor ATS-59 | Encyclopedia of Military Equipment (
SAGETILE DACIEI (2) – Romania Military (
Tractor AT-S | Encyclopedia of Military Equipment (

Cold War Romanian Armor Modern Romanian Armor


Socialist Republic of Romania/Romania (1977-2005)
Light Artillery Tractor – Around 100 Built

The TAR-76 (Tractor de Artilerie Românesc, Eng: Romanian Artillery Tractor) was a light Romanian artillery tractor meant for towing 122 mm, 152 mm howitzers and their crews, as well as 57 mm AA guns. It was based on recycled Soviet AT-L tractors and used the same running gear and powerpack, but had a larger cabin. Around 100 were produced through the 1970s and 1980s, however, due to the much cheaper operational cost, better reliability, and lower fuel consumption of domestically produced DAC-665T trucks, they were gradually retired after the fall of the Communist regime.

New Artillery

In 1948, the newly formed Romanian People’s Republic (RPR) began the reconstruction of its military. At the time, this consisted of whatever material was leftover from the war, of which the majority was damaged and non-functional. A report from 1950 unveiled that, in terms of artillery howitzers, from those functional to begin with, 55% were from before 1914. Thus, in 1949, with the budget for new armament purchases increased by 900%, and the signing of the “General Costescu” Accord on 4 June 1949, Romania would purchase a wide variety of modern Soviet artillery. Between 1949 and 1950, 84 ML-20 152 mm howitzers and 100 M-30 122 mm divisional howitzers were purchased. To tow the weapons, 22 Stalinets S-80 tractors and 135 ZiS-151 6×6 trucks were purchased, effectively doubling the number of available prime movers within the military. By 1952, another 50 M-30 122 mm howitzers were received. Lighter armament was towed by the 154 ZiS-150 trucks purchased in 1949. By 1957, the RPR had bought 35 AT-L light artillery tractors for towing S-60 57 mm AA guns and 37 AT-S 712 heavy artillery tractors for towing the 152 mm ML-20 howitzers.

Romanian AT-L light artillery tractors towing S-60 57 mm AA guns on 23 August parade, 1964.
Source: Life

It is important to highlight that, during this period, the RPR had just begun the mass industrialisation of a country that previously had no refined industry, and relied mostly on agriculture, raw material exports, and oil. Thus, an array of factories were built with the scope of producing military and automotive products. These factories were based in the halls of the few factories Romania had prior to the war, and whatever was left of them. It was not until after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Romanian leader Ceausescu’s strong criticism of it, that Romania focused heavily on industrial and military independence, leading to the creation of various domestically designed tanks, APCs, aircraft, helicopters, and ships, though most would be modifications of foreign patents, both of Soviet and Western origin.

Romanian AT-S 712 heavy artillery tractor towing a 152 mm M-20 mod.1937
Source: Cartula


As such, at the beginning of the 1970s, the Institutul de Cercetare și Inginerie Tehnologică al Armatei din București (ICITA) (Eng: the Army Development and Technological Engineering Institute in Bucharest) drew up the specific design of a medium artillery tractor. When designing the vehicle, minimizing reliance on imports and use of existing systems was emphasized. Thus, the running gear and engine of the Soviet AT-L were recycled, but an entirely new larger cabin was added, as well as an all-metal flatbed. The 102nd Truck Maintenance Base (nowadays 102nd Maintenance Battalion) in Bucov was tasked with the initial production of said vehicles, yet the majority were built at the Mizil Mechanical Factory. The military received the first vehicles in 1977.

TAR-76 exhibited at the Military History Museum King Ferdinand I in Bucharest. The golden plate and the L-shaped arm holding it were welded on for the museum.


In contrast to popular belief that the TAR-76 was 100% a Romanian designed vehicle, it was actually built upon the chassis of the Soviet AT-L light artillery tractor. The entirety of the track and running gear ensemble remained unchanged. The cabin was lengthened and mounted directly over the engine and gearbox ensemble, splitting the cabin in half. The cabin could house 4 men, including the driver as well as their equipment and radio, and was constructed out of thin sheet metal. It had 2 hatches on the roof for observation and self-defense with the troop’s personal weapons. Each seat had an individual entry/exit door. In the flatbed, 8 soldiers could be carried or dozens of ammunition boxes. The pulling weight capacity was 7.6 tonnes, while the vehicle itself weighed 7.8 tonnes. As the AT-L chassis was used, it had 5 stamped steel roadwheels with rubber padding per side, sprung by torsion bars.

Front view of a TAR-76, without the nighttime masking light covers.
Source: Ebay

The engine was a 135 hp V-6 diesel D120 built at the Timpuri Noi factory in Bucharest. It had a fuel consumption of 80 l/100 km. In terms of steering, the driver had 2 tillers that would control the 2 multi disc clutch brakes. Maximum speed was close to 42 km/h. Fuel reserve was enough for 300 km.

TAR-76 towing an M-10 152 mm howitzer in a promotional video.
Source: Prague Military History Institute

Use and Retirement

Initially, the tractors were used to tow various guns purchased during the artillery restructure of the 1950s, from the heavy 152 mm M-20 and M-10 howitzers and A-19 122 mm howitzer to the 57 mm S-60 AA guns, effectively replacing the AT-L. However, with the beginning of the 1980s, Romania was developing its own field howitzers, the most common being a variant of the Soviet D-20 152 mm gun, the Ob. Md.1981, which the TAR-76 ended up towing after the older heavy howitzers were used for training and reserve purposes.

TAR-76 tractors towing Ob. Md.1981, 23rd August parade, 1984. Note the tricolor Romanian roundel on the door.
Source: Agerpres

In parallel with the development and production of the TAR-76, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Romanian military would purchase the ATS-59 and ATS-59G prime movers from the Soviet Union for towing heavy artillery. While the TAR-76 and ATS-59 would often work together and be used for the same roles, the ATS-59G inspired the development of a heavier Romanian artillery tractor. After just 3 years, the TAR-76 was taken out of production to make place for the TMA-79 (Tractor Mediu de Artilerie Eng: Medium Artillery Tractor) but it was delayed because of mechanical issues, and entered production in only 1984, as the TMA-83. Heavier and stronger, it offered a wider and more versatile platform, and it formed the base for various engineering vehicles, such as the MHS-125 crane and MST-802 trench digger.

Comparison of some artillery prime movers in Romanian service
Name AT-L TAR-76 ATS-59 DAC-665T
Type Light artillery tractor Light artillery tractor Medium artillery tractor 6×6 transport truck
Country of origin USSR Romania USSR Romania
Production (year) 1947-1967 1978-1981 1959-1967 1978-1990s
Service in Romania 1955-1970s 1978-2005 1960s-2005 1978-present
Mass (kg) 5,800 7,800 13,000 5,800
Engine (hp) 135 135 300 215
Fuel consumption (l/100km) 100 80 150-160 32
Range (km) 400 300-600 350 (500 with external fuel tanks) 800-1,000
Max. speed (km/h) 42 42 41 85
Pulling weight (kg) 6,000 7,600 14,000 5,000
Capacity (cabin + flatbed) 3+8 4+4 2+14 3+4 (8 in flatbed if configured)

Both Romanian artillery prime movers were rather unsuccessful. Despite moderate production numbers, they began retirement as soon as the Communist regime fell and military budgets were decimated. They were unreliable, slow, and had high fuel consumption. They were also considered underpowered, struggling to pull 152 mm howitzers over rough terrain or hills. Even their Soviet counterparts, ATS-59 and ATS-59G, while suffering from the same fundamental issues, were more refined and reliable. Instead, heavy artillery would get towed by the DAC 665T truck, much cheaper, refined, faster, and versatile. The Ob.Md.1981 152 mm howitzer, which is the most used field howitzer, is still towed by DAC 665T trucks to this day. In terms of tracked tractors, only a small number of ATS-59G still operate, towing the 152 mm Ob.Md.1985, which is too heavy to be towed by the DAC 665T.

DAC 665T 6×6 trucks pulling Ob.Md.1981 howitzers, belonging to the 15th Mechanized Brigade “Podu Înalt”, during an exercise in April 2022.
Source: 15th Mechanized Brigade Facebook

Most TAR-76s began to be retired after 1990, partly because large quantities of field artillery were taken out of service, but also because of the aforementioned issues. The last examples were retired in 2005. One vehicle was sent to the King Ferdinand I military museum in Bucharest, where it can be seen today. At least another 2 had been restored at Faur works and sent to Arsenal Park in Orastie. Several other tractors, unable to be scrapped due to their service life not being fully exploited, were donated by the military to several isolated communes for use during meteorological hardships, such as heavy snows. For example, the Mircea Vodă commune in Brăila county received 2 such tractors for snow removal and firefighting. The military still retained a handful of tractors. One is kept in pristine condition, alongside mechanical components and drawings, at the school for tank and auto officer training in Pitești. A TR-125 in running condition and a prototype MLVM are also kept here, amongst others.

A TAR-76 from Arsenal Park used for tourist rides. Note the hatches in the roof.


Despite the unreliability of the mechanical components, high fuel consumption, and slow speed, the TAR-76 was a legitimately good way to revamp and recycle obsolete AT-L tractors. The Romanian defense industry was still in its infancy, and the TAR-76 was the first domestically produced (or rather, converted) artillery tractor. It served as a basis for the more advanced TMA-83, but which suffered from similar problems. In turn, the entire class of tracked artillery tractors has become obsolete when faced with the considerable improvements of military trucks, like the DAC 665T.

Special thanks to Lt. (r) Aurel Chiriac


Artileria Romana in date si Imagini – Col. conf. Univ. Dr. Adrian Stroea, Lt. Col. Gheorghe Băjenaru
Tractorul Mijlociu de Artilerie Românesc – Major Eng. Eugen Petre
(PDF) Contribuții la istoria dotării cu armament a armatei române între 1944 și 1959 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
(DOC) Evoluția dotării cu automobile a armatei române între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
(PDF) Motorizarea tracțiunii în armata română între 1948 și 1957 | Sămușan Alin Bogdan –
Adaptare: Gospodarul îşi face iarna car şi vara, tanchetă |
ROM – TAR-76 (tracked artillery tractor) : Other – not yet classified (
Tun-obuzier cal. 152 mm (
Tractor ATS-59 | Encyclopedia of Military Equipment (
SAGETILE DACIEI (2) – Romania Military (

TAR-76 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5.10 – 2.20 – 2.50 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 7.8 tonnes
Crew 8 (4 in the cabin, including driver, 4 on flatbed)
Propulsion 135 hp diesel D120 V-6
Speed 42 km/h
Suspension Torsion bar, 5 wheels per side
Total Production Ca. 100
Cold War Romanian Armor Modern Romanian Armor

4K51 Rubezh in Romanian Service

Socialist Republic of Romania/Romania (1987-2024)
Anti-Ship Coastal Defense Missile System – 4 Purchased

While Romania’s topography consists mainly of great plains crossed by the Carpathian mountain chain, Romania has an opening to the Black Sea stretching over 245 km. For centuries, this opening has proved crucial for the local population, offering a great trading route with nearby territories, and a connection with the Danube river. When the Romanian Communist Party started its wide scale industrialisation program in the 1960s, the opening to the Black Sea would become even more important, and would require serious defending, both via the sea, but also directly from land. The last piece of equipment purchased by the Socialist Republic of Romania for this role was the 4K51 Rubezh, a Soviet mobile coastal anti-ship missile system, that could provide cheap and fast defense against naval threats.

4K51 Rubezh launching a missile at Capu Midia in 2010.
Source: MApN via Ștefan Ciocan

Background, the P-15 Termit in Romania

The Romanian re-armament plan of the 1960s consisted of purchasing a variety of modern Soviet equipment, most notably rockets and missiles. Such weapons became exponentially more important, offering immense destruction power, with short travel times and long ranges, with relative safety for the firing vehicle. One of these systems was the P-15 anti-ship missile, initially intended for ship-to-ship use.

In March of 1961, a delegation of the Romanian military was sent to Moscow to discuss the terms of the Warsaw treaty, as well as rearmament of the Romanian military. During this period, the acquisition of 6 Project 205 (Osa-class missile boats) for the Romanian Navy was decided, to be received in the period of 1962 and 1965. These ships were equipped with 4x P-15 Termit missiles each, and formed a brand new naval battalion. The new unit would be named the 133rd Vedete (Missile boat) battalion. A total of 5 Osa-class boats were imported in 1964, with several produced locally later on, the boats receiving the designation of NPR, Navă Purtătoare de Rachete (rocket carrying ship). The P-15 would be transported on land by SR-114 Bucegi trucks. The Romanian Frigate Mărășești also uses 4 P-15 launchers, with 2 launch tubes each.

The 4K51 Rubezh missile system was purchased in 1988 brand-new from the USSR, as Romania completely lacked a designated mobile coastal defense missile system, with only conventional artillery systems and the SA-N-2 Volhov stationary missile systems, which the Romanian military claims could also be used against naval targets. Just 4 systems were purchased and were delivered by March 1988. Interesting to note is that the systems have not undergone any sort of modification, either in the Soviet Union or Romania, and thus, all writing and information inside the vehicles are in Russian, in Cyrillic writing.

SR-114 Bucegi trucks of the Naval Forces transporting P-15 Termit missiles.
Colorized by Smaragd123

4K51 missile system

In the 1960s, the Soviets were analyzing their existing coastal-defense systems, the 4K87 Sopka and the 4K44B Redut. The Sopka was already obsolete, while the Redut, despite its supersonic cruise speed and long range, had a long fire preparation time and was simply too large. Additionally, it was not allowed for export. Thus, development started at the Raduga design bureau in 1970, with the Moscow Design Bureau of Mechanical Engineering designing the missile launcher, named 3S51 with KT-161 launch containers. The Design Bureau of the Minsk Automotive plant would undertake the necessary modifications for the chassis, based on their own 8×8 MAZ-543M truck. The 23-tonne truck used a 38.8 liter V-12 D12A-525A diesel, delivering 525 hp with 38,8 l and consuming 80 liters / 100 km (2.94 miles / gallon). It had an automatic gearbox and reached a top speed of circa 60 km/h. Fuel reserve was sufficient for 630 km.

The system consisted of 4 main components. The truck itself had the driver’s cab at the front, which was small in size in order to be able to fit the engine to the right. Behind was the telescopic radar. Behind it was the main control and firing cabin, which housed the crew of 6 men and all the FCS equipment and turbocharged power supply. Lastly, the two launching pods were mounted at the back, with a full 360° range. The launching of the missiles could only be done in a 110° range adjacent to the chassis, and the lowest elevation being 20°. Two lids, on both sides of the launcher tube, were opened automatically prior to launching.

The ZC51 Harpoon telescopic radar ensured the independence of the system, not requiring an external radar, though an extra long-range radar could be used (something Romania did not order for the Rubezh). The Harpoon radar had a range of 100 km and scanned the surface of the water level over this area. In tandem with the mobile 3S51 launchers, they ensured that the system was ready to fire in just 5 minutes, and could drive off even faster.

Testing of the vehicle began in late 1974, at the 141st independent Artillery Division, for which the 1267th Independent Coastal Missile Division was formed at the Black Sea. Firing tests were held at Cape Fiolent, in Crimea. A total of 23 launches were built between 1975 and 1977. It was adopted in service with the Soviet Navy on the 22nd October, 1978, after Decree from the Council of the Ministers of the USSR No. 853-875.

In the 1980s, a modernization was made, using an enlarged MAZ-543M truck. The launching system was named 3P51M.

4K51 Rubezh prior to a missile launch at MILREX 2007 at Capu Midia, with its Harpoon radar extended and tube 2 ready for launch. Note the 4-tone camouflage pattern.
Source: Bogdan Dinu

P-15M (P-21 & P-22)

The missile used on the 4K51 was the P-15M, which was an excessively modernized variant of the P-15 missile. It featured a trapezoidal wing, which was folded during transport in the vehicle, and would lock open after launch. Its empenagge consisted of a small vertical stabilizer and two horizontal stabilizers. Its propellant consisted of a two-stage rocket engine. The first engine was used at the initial launch and to reach the designated cruise altitude. Once it ran out of fuel, the cruise engine would start operating. The fuel used was the usual solid-state TG-02, in tandem with AK-20K nitric acid based oxidiser. The cruise engine was tasked with reaching a speed of 320 m/s (1,150 km/h) and maintaining it until it reached the target. During navigation, the rocket used an APR-25 autopilot, radio-based altimeter, navigational system and homing radar. The total range was thus increased to 80 km, at maximum cruise altitude of 250 m, but between 50 and 100 m above sea-level was recommended. It had a mass of 2,573 kg, out of which 513 kg was the conventional warhead. It was 6.565 m long, a wingspan of 2.4 m and a diameter of 0.76 meters. Each launcher had 2 different target acquisition systems, one with an active radar, while the other had a thermal infrared system. These missiles were sold internationally as the P-21 and P-22 respectively. The 2 target acquisition types offered crews flexibility in regards to what missile to launch, taking into consideration the target. Alternatively, firing both missiles ensured a higher chance of a hit, especially if the enemy vessel tried to jam the systems.

Loading of a NPR with P-15M rockets. Note the folded wings.
Source: Flacăra


On 30th of November 1987, as per the General Staff, the 460th Coastal Rocket Battery was formed, part of the garrison at Mangalia. The unit received all 4 systems by March 1988. First firing exercises were held on 18th of May, 1989, at the Tuzla firing range. On 30th of July, 1990, the unit changed name into the 508th Coastal Rocket battalion, and in 2005 it was integrated into the 190th Naval Rocket battalion. Since 2017, the 585th C.B.R.N. defense company is integrated into the 508th Coastal Rocket battalion.

4K51 Rubezh in 2017, with new NATO 3-tone camouflage. Note the retracted Typhoon radar, in driving position.
Source: Unknown


After the original reception, these vehicles were painted in the standard dark green color and given a Romanian roundel on the door. During the 1990s, the vehicles were repainted in a 3-tone camouflage with light blue, light green and yellow over the base dark green coat, resulting in a flamboyant 4-tone camo. This was usual practice, as there was no camouflage norm set by the General Staff, so units would paint their vehicles with whatever paint was available, resulting in some interesting colors and patterns. Between 2007 and 2010, the vehicles were repainted again, this time in a 3-tone camo, with light green, yellow and brown. In 2017, with higher budgets to individual units and reorganization, the vehicles were painted to the standard NATO 3-tone camouflage with khaki, black, and brown.

Rubezh system with its radar extended and 3-tone yellow, brown, and light green camouflage.
Source: Ro Navy

Raytheon Replacement – NSM

There are rumors that, in the mid-2000s, the 4K51 and subsequent P-21 and P-22 missiles were to be taken out of service. Apparently, after a firing test, the missile destroyed the naval target on first hit, thus extending the service life of the missiles in Romania, both on the 4K51 but also for the ships that used it. Financial issues are the more probable reason behind this extension, but the Romanian Army loves its myths. After being in service with the Romanian Navy for over 30 years, the 4K51 system is showing its age. Even early in its life, the system was questioned for its relatively short range (not necessarily an issue for Romania’s moderately small coast) but, more importantly, interception of the missile and jamming of the guiding systems. Additionally, Romania’s stock of these missiles is getting smaller, to the point that firings of real rockets are not undertaken anymore.

Since 2017, the Ministry of Defense (MApN) has shown interest in replacing the 4K51 systems with the NSM, Naval Strike Missile, developed by Kongsberg Norway. A contract was signed in May 2021, worth €286 million. This consists of 4 mobile launcher systems, 1 mobile command & control center, 1 loading and transport vehicle, as well as all testing, logistical, maintenance and training aspects. The systems will be delivered in 2024.

The NSM is a light anti-ship missile, with a range of 185 km and weighing only 125 kg. It uses an infrared sensor to identify and guide itself to the target, which makes it hard to detect by radar and is classified as a ‘stealth’ missile that can be used all-weather.

Poland acquired the system in 2008, and the US adopted the system in 2018.

Missile P-15M NSM
Dimensions (length – wingspan) 6.565 – 2.4 m 3.96 – 1.36 m
Mass 2.573 kg 407 kg
Warhead mass 513 kg (conventional) 125 kg
Cruising Speed 320 m/s (1152 km/h) (716 mph) 240 – 326 m/s (864 – 1173 km/h)
Cruising altitude (above sea level) Recc. 50 – 100 m (max 250 m) Sea-skimming (< 50 m)
Range 80 km (50 miles) 185 km (115 miles)
Target acquisition and homing system Active radar (P-21) and thermal infrared (P-22) Infrared imager, passive sensors, GPS


Romanian 4K51 (left) and Polish NSM (right) based on a Jelcz truck at Sea Shield 21. The difference in size between the two missile launchers is very clear.
Source: MApN Facebook
Post-1989 4K51 system, painted in the 90s with a 4 tone camo-pattern, until 2010.
4K51 Rubezh in Romanian service with the 3-tone camo pattern from 2007 to 2017.
In 2017, all 4K51 systems were painted in the standard NATO 3-tone camouflage. All illustrations by Pavel Alexe.

4K51 Rubezh missile system in Romanian service specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 14.2 x 2.97 x 4 meters
Total Weight, Battle Ready 40+ tonnes
Crew 6
Propulsion D12A-525A diesel V-12 525 hp 38.8 l with 80 l/100 km consumption.
Speed 60 km/h
Armament 2x P-15M (P-21 & P-22) missiles, launched from the 3S51 with KT-161 launch containers.
Armor N/A
Total Purchasedn 4 launchers


Forțele Navale Române (
TiV No.5 2021
Rachetele armatei române şi criza vectorilor nucleari sovietici trimişi în Cuba (1960-1963) | Contributors – Petre Opriș
Rachete balistice sovietice în România (1961-1998) | Contributors – Petre Opriș – Victor Cozmei
OFICIAL Armata cumpără sisteme mobile cu rachete anti-navă NSM din SUA. Când vor fi livrate primele sisteme care vor păzi coasta Mării Negre – – Victor Cozmei
Dotări noi la Forţele Navale Române. Rachetiştii se inst ( – Andreea Perhaiță
NSM – Naval Strike Missile – Missile Systems – KONGSBERG – Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace

Cold War Romanian Armor Modern Romanian Armor

Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989

Socialist Republic of Romania/Romania (1987-1992)
Self-Propelled Howitzer – 42 Built

Model 1989 at the Mizil factory. Source: MFA

Starting in the 1950’s, the Republica Populară Română (English: ‘Romanian People’s Republic’) tried to lessen the mighty Soviet economic and cultural grip as a response to Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign. After Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, leader of the Romanian People’s Republic from 1947 to 1965, died in 1965, a new more ambitious leader came onto the scene. Nicolae Ceaușescu, leader of the newly renamed Republica Socialistă România (English: ‘Socialist Republic of Romania’), would rule from 1965 until the fall of the Partidul Comunist Român (English: ‘Romanian Communist Party’) in 1989. Early on, Ceaușescu made efforts to distance the nation from the Warsaw Pact. His biggest opportunity to do so came during the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, known as Operation Danube, which lasted from August 20 to 21. On August 21, 1968, Ceaușescu gave a speech denouncing the invasion and de facto asserting the independence of the Socialist Republic of Romania from the Soviet Union.
While still formally in the Warsaw Pact, Romania gained a new level of autonomy due to Ceaușescu’s efforts to distance the country from the Soviet Union. As a result, the nation felt the need to become more militarily independent, produce weaponry within its own borders, and even to seek assistance from the West and China. While complete autonomy was not an easily achievable prospect, especially for a nation such as Romania, they had to occasionally rely on its Warsaw Pact allies for equipment and technology. Nevertheless, the effort was a great one of which lead to the creation of the Model 1989 and various other domestically produced Romanian armored vehicles.

If It Ain’t Broke, Continue Fixing It…

The Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989 (English: ‘Romanian self-propelled howitzer, Model 1989’) or simply known as the Model 1989, is a Romanian self-propelled howitzer based on both the MLI-84 and the 2S1 Gvozdika.
As with many domestically produced vehicles from the Socialist Republic of Romania, the Model 1989 is one example of many Romanian license-produced vehicles featuring design changes that seem to offer no real advantage over the original like the MLI-84 which is essentially slightly longer BMP-1 clone with a marginally more powerful engine. However, in the case of the Model 1989, the MLI-84 elements such as the suspension were likely used to ease production.
Prior to the Model 1989, Socialist Romania’s Forțele Terestre Române (English: ‘Romanian Land Forces’) were never equipped with any turreted self-propelled artillery. In 1978, the Romanian Command of Artillery was tasked with the job of figuring out how many domestically produced modernized artillery pieces were going to be needed from 1978 to 1990. It was concluded that 1205 122mm armed self-propelled artillery pieces were going to be needed, likely having the Soviet Union’s 2S1 Gvozdika in mind. These vehicles were destined for artillery battalions within mechanized regiments.
As a result, Romania ended up ordering an artillery battery from the Soviet Union consisting of six 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery pieces without fire control systems in 1987 and received them in 1988 according to the SIPRI trade register. They were designated as the ‘Obuzierul autopropulsat 2S1’ in Romanian service.

2S1 under Romanian service. Source: Artileria Română În Date și Imagini
Between 1987 and 1992, the Socialist Republic of Romania built 2S1s under license even after the fall of the socialist regime in 1989. These were the Model 1989s of which 42 were made. The hulls were built at the Mizil factory where the MLI-84s were also built. However, the turret was imported from the Soviet Union along with the 122mm 2A31 gun it was equipped with, which was redesignated as the A565. The SIPRI trade register, a less reliable source, claims that forty-two 2S1 turrets meant for installation on the Model 1989s were imported from the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.
After the fall of the socialist regime in Romania in 1989, the Model 1989s the Model 1989s saw use from 1990 until 2005 when they were put in storage. During this period, 24 Model 1989s saw use by the 25th Artillery Battalion of the 22nd Tank Brigade and 22 Model 1989s plus the six 2S1s were used by the 55th Artillery Battalion of the 6th Tank Brigade.

Model 1989s stored away. Take note of the center left Model 1989 with a rounded rear access door resembling the type used on the MLI-84. Notice the SU-100 tank destroyers on the left. Source:

A group of Model 1989s lined up in the early 2000’s. Source:


If compared to an MLI-84, it appears to be a lengthened version of it with an extra roadwheel on each side, single door rear entrance instead of two doors and various minor differences.
Compared to the 2S1, the Model 1989 features shorter side hull walls due to the greater amount of area the suspension takes. The front features a much more prominent angled hull extending further outwards. It also lacks a driver’s window and an indentation for the driver’s window on the left.
The 122mm A565 is 38 calibers long and uses compatible ammunition with the Soviet-designed towed 122mm D-30 howitzer. It can fire High Explosive shells (HE), High-Explosive Anti-Tank rounds (HEAT), illumination rounds, and smoke rounds. The Model 1989 carries 40 rounds in total, 35 HE and 5 HEAT rounds. The HEAT rounds have a maximum effective range of 2000 m and the 122mm A565 has a maximum range of 15.2 km. The turret is able to rotate a full 360 degrees and the 122mm A565 can depress -3 degrees and able to elevate +70 degrees. Night vision systems are also installed.
The Model 1989 consists of a crew four; the driver, gunner, loader, and commander. The driver is located to the left of the engine near the front of the vehicle and the gunner, loader, and commander are in the fighting compartment at the rear, which they can enter through the rear entrance.

Illustration of Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989
Illustration of the Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989 by Jaroslaw “Jarja” Janas. This illustration has been sponsored by Golum through our Patreon page

Rear view of the Model 1989. Source:

Top view of the Model 1989 showing the engine deck and hatches. Source:
The engine the vehicle uses is currently unspecified, but it is most likely equipped with the MLI-84’s 360 hp 8V 1240 DTS engine. The placement and design of the vents allude to the possibility of being equipped with this engine as they are a very similar type used on the MLI-84. The Model 1989 has a maximum speed of 64 km/h, can climb slopes of 35 degrees, has a range of 450 km, has amphibious capabilities, and consumes 200 liters per 100 km. It weighs 18.3 tonnes, is 7.505 m long, 3.15 m wide, and 2.72 m tall. The Model 1989’s suspension is very reminiscent of the MLI-84’s suspension. The road wheels, idler wheels, drive sprockets, and return rollers seem to have been borrowed from the MLI-84. The 2S1 on the other hand lacks return rollers. Seven road wheels are located on each side connected to torsion bars, with the idler wheels at the rear, drive sprockets at the front, and three return rollers on each side. The cluster of five road wheels are located at the front with a pair of two at the rear on both sides, unlike the 2S1’s uniform roadwheel spacing.
In the first image in this article, the Model 1989 appears to have an idler wheel borrowed from the 2S1.
The armor is only effective enough to protect from small arms fire and artillery shrapnel. Side skirts are provided for the frontal portion of the vehicle and are stored away at the rear of the turret. The vehicle is also NBC protected.

A recently surfaced image (relative to the publication of this article) of the rarely photographed Model 1989 seen in an accident. The accident has fractured the thinly armored lower front hull. Source: Pro TV


Romania never came close to their desired goal of 1205 122mm armed self-propelled artillery pieces, but at the very least they attempted to fill a gap in their military. Till this day, the Model 1989s still haven’t been decommissioned, but are instead stored away. This might seem like the end of the vehicle’s career waiting to be sold off or scrapped, but there seems to be some hope for the Model 1989. According to an unverified source, the Model 1989’s chassis may be used as the basis for the MLI-84M mortar carrier. If the claim is true and if the conversion takes place, the service life of the vehicle could potentially expand for decades to come.

Modern photo of the Model 1989 showing the right side of the vehicle. Source: MFA

Contemporary photo showing the front-left side of the vehicle. Source:
Semple Tank undergoing trials
More images of the Model 1989 from the accident mentioned earlier. Take note of the left image where the rounded rear access door is seen. Source: Pro TV

Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989 specifications

L x W x H
7.505 m x 3.15 m x 2.72 m
(24ft 7.5in x 10ft 4in x 8ft 11in)
Weight 18.3 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader)
Propulsion Most likely equipped with a 360 hp (268.5 kW) 8V 1240 DTS engine
Suspension Torsion bar
Top speed 64 km/h (39.8 mph)
Range (road) 450 km (280 miles)
Armament 122mm A565, 40 rounds (35 HE, 5 HEAT)
Armor Effective enough to protect from small arms fire and artillery shrapnel
Total built 42

Links & Resources

“Artileria Română În Date și Imagini”
“165 Ani de Existență a Artileriei Române Moderne”
Romtehnica MLI-84 brochure (manufacturer’s site) (manufacturer’s site) (archived link)
SIPRI trade register
The author would like to extend his gratitude to steppewolf for translating some of the sources above.