Categories
Modern Romanian others

Dacia Duster Army Technology Demonstrator

Romania (2010-2014)
Light utility vehicle conversion –
Prototypes only
2 machine gun cars, 1 pick-up

In 2013, a strange curiosity was shown at the Romanian 1st December parade, a matte green Dacia Duster with a remote control weapon station with a 7.62 mm machine gun on top, mounted on a tubular steel frame.

The Car

The vehicle at the 1st December parade was entirely based on the Dacia Duster, a light civilian Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) built by Dacia, a subsidiary of Renault Group. The company was first established in 1966 by the Romanian communist Government and the French company Renault to build, under license, the Renault 8 and later the Renault 12. After the fall of Communism in Romania in 1989, and with the Dacia suffering from poor privatisation, suffocated by the vastly superior foreign cars, the company was bought by Renault in September 1999.

While initially focusing on super cheap sedans, such as the Dacia SuperNova and Dacia Logan, in 2010, the company released the Dacia Duster at the Geneva Motor Show. Although rugged, filled with plastic, and rudimentary, it was met with appreciation in its home country and surrounding nations, with almost 70,000 units sold in 2010 alone. The name Dacia Duster had been previously used by the Romanian state to export the ARO 10 in the UK.

Dacia Duster at the Geneva Motor Show, 2010.

Army Dacia?

Romania had plenty of experience with SUVs prior to the Duster. The ARO factory had built the entire automotive park of the Romanian military, but also widely used by other state agencies, such as the Securitate and Miliție, and different enterprises. In the military, most were used in the way they were built out of the factory, but some featured extra armor or even weapons.

ARO 240 series with split screen and a 73 mm recoilless rifle.
Source: ARO Forum

The Army Dacia seen on 1st December parade in 2013 was a combined effort to revitalise the dead defence industry, but also replace the ageing ARO cars, that were still the majority of the unarmored cars in the Romanian Army.

The vehicle was met with raised eyebrows and big smiles. Some were laughing at the seemingly stupid look, while others realised what collaboration between Dacia and the military meant. It was based on the 2010 model year of the Duster with the Laureate trim level.
Source: Romaniaperoti.ro

It was named the Duster Army, specifically designed under a three year period by engineers from Renault Romania for the needs of the Romanian Army, and was tested at the UMB testing range Mihai Bravu, where civilian journalists were shown a firing test and a driving test. It was developed by RTR (Renault Technologie Roumanie), Romturingia, UMB (Uzina Mechanica București), Electro Bit, and specialists from the Ministry of Defence armaments department. The idea belonged to RTR, who built the car, Romturingia made the steel frame, and UMB the remote turret. Viorel Salan, head of the RTR at the time, said “With the prototype, we wanted to show what can be done”. The car was virtually a Technology Demonstrator. He then expanded with:

“If the army will be interested, we can sit down and produce it. We chose working with Romturingia, because we are talking about a vehicle built in small numbers with a special purpose, something that couldn’t’ve been done on the regular Duster’s production line.”

Despite the comical look of the car, it is filled with gadgets and possibilities for further upgrades. The roll cage is mounted externally to allow for more interior space, and to support the weight of the RCWS (Remote Controlled Weapon Station). There are 4 attaching points to the frame of the car which allow the addition of heavy equipment, such as a plow. On the rear, a tow hook is attached and to the front, a detachable Warn winch is mounted. Curiously, the winch and the Goodyear Wrangler HP 215/65 R16 tires, along with the 4 LED lights (2 on each side) are some of the only imported products, the engineers realising the importance of reviving and sustaining local industries, while also making the vehicle easier to market. The signal LED lights were imported from the US because of the international military vehicle signaling laws. In addition, there are two front mounted masked position lights, made for nighttime maneuvers. The car has a blackout system, switching off all external and interior lights, including the dashboard lights. The switch is mounted on an additional box, on top of the dashboard. A green vinyl wrap has been applied to the entirety of the car as a form of provisory camouflage. The Duster does not have any sort of external armor. According to Salan, metal armor would be too heavy, but kevlar armor can be mounted if desired. Yet there were steel armor plates along the belly of the car, one in the front, for the engine and gearbox, one for the gas tank and one for the rear differential.

The covered civilian headlights, along with the signal lights and night masked lights.
Source: Auto-bild.ro

Also above the dashboard is a switch for the 24 V system. The car runs on regular 12 V, but an additional 24 V battery has been added in the boot to suit military standards. In addition, on the left side of the boot, there is a transformer sending 220 V for two outlets.

A 34V outlet on what was once the window between the C and D pillars.
Source: Auto-bild.ro

Turret

The most peculiar part of the car was, of course, the machine gun turret. It was made at UMB, with a weight of 135 kg (300 pounds) and costs more than twice the price of the Duster. It is controlled remotely, from the inside, with the use of a joystick, similar to those used for gaming, through which the gun can be moved, aimed, and fired. An 11 inch screen is used for display. A special software shows how many bullets are left, and can also show the position of friendly, and enemy troops, just like in a first-person shooter. On this pilot model, the screen is mounted above the glovebox, in front of the right-hand passenger, and the joystick is on a mobile metal support.

The UMB RCWS, with a 7.62 mm machine gun.
Source: Auto-Bild.ro
The FCS of the Dacia Duster Army pilot model. Note the switchbox above the AC ports.
Source: Auto-bild.ro

All the additions to the base SUV altered the Dacia Duster’s driving style and capabilities. The 135 kg turret raises the center of gravity of the car, which can be felt in corners. The engine is a Diesel 1.5 dCi 110 hp with 4×4 drive. The extra equipment (excluding the turret) adds up 140 kg, for a total of 275 additional kilograms. This can be felt, even if on bumps the ride quality is good. Driving in a straight line, the Duster Army can reach 120 km/h (75 mph).

The Duster firing its 7.62 mm machine gun. Note the “probe” on the license plate, meaning it is just a prototype.
Source: Auto Industry News

Dacia Duster Army 2.0

A year later, at the 1st December parade, the Duster Army was back. This time, two 2014 model Dacia Dusters were shown. The first was very similar to the previous one, but with a new RCWS, equipped with a .50 cal. The exact turret is unkown, but it is also a Pro Optica produuct, similar to the Anubis RCWS. The second was a pickup mounting the Romanian Pro Optica Artemis Medium Range surveillance cameras. According to Pro Optica, features an color camera, uncooled thermal camera, “eye safe” laser rangefinder and the option to isntall a radar and laser target designator, all on an elevatable pan and tilt platform. Most notable is the very unorthodox camouflage pattern, consisting of small and intricate black, green, brown and beige color splashes. This was also a vinyl wrap and not painted/sprayed upon the body. Unfortunately, the Dacia Duster Army was never ordered, but it strengthened relationships between companies and was a good technology demonstrator for what can really be done with such a budget car.

The 2014 Duster to the left is very similar to the 2013 Army, but has a new FCWS. The pickup model has a 360° rotating turret with cameras for reconnaissance purposes. Note the white ARO in the background, still a common sight at the time.
Source: FotoStefan

Another variant of the Duster Army was shown at BSDA 2016, where a Duster pickup was shown with 4 ACF tracks and a Romanian Digital BIT DShK heavy machine gun RCWS on the platform, namely the AGIL 127 ERLG. This vehicle was also sold and marketed by Digital BIT. The ACF tracks are mechanically attached directly to the drivetrain of the car and requires little prior preparation, specifically 1 hour for 1 ma, according to ACF tracks. They allow the light 4 wheel drive car to cruise over muddy and snowy ground at high speeds, and a maximum speed on roads of 60 km/h. They decrease ground pressure by 15 times and increase the ground clearance to 210 mm. Dacia Dusters with ACF tracks have been tested by the ambulance services and Gendarmerie.

Dacia Duster pickup with DShK RCWS and 4 independent drive ACF tracks at BSDA in Bucharest. These tracks transform the regular axle drive into the track, and can steer the same way the wheeled car does.
Source: acftrack.com

Dacia Duster Army 3.0 Hoax, the Scorpion Trail

In December 2020, images were leaked by Dacia Duster Trails, a fan group website, allegedly showing the construction of a new special military Dacia Duster. Two versions were initially named, a troop transport variant, with heavy STANAG level 3 armor (out of kevlar and steel plates) and STANAG level 2 windows. This armor would be optional.

One of the photos leaked from the Dacia plant, allegedly showing a new military Duster.
Source: Rumaniamilitary

The second version would be for reconnaissance and scouting, featuring a drone launcher, carrying 2 attack drones, capable of firing AG7 warheads, and 3 surveillance drones, or only 4 surveillance drones. Alternatively, it could be equipped with a 81 mm mortar, supposedly capable of firing HEAT rounds up to 5.5 km. This version had only 2 seats (where the crew operating the equipment went is unclear), would be amphibious, and had a whopping STANAG level 3 to 4 protection.

Poster describing the incredibly fantastic Duster Scorpion Trail.
Source: Rumaniamilitary

Sadly, but naturally, this was a hoax. While never confirmed, it is clear that it was done by somebody unfamiliar with armored vehicles and military technology. The Dacia Duster, although robust as a civilian vehicle, was never meant to carry particularly heavy weights. So a Duster with any level of protection, a mortar or drones, and amphibious kit would be impossible. The strain on the suspension, chassis, engine, and transmission would be way too large. If these components were to be upgraded, the price would be too large, and would not justify the conversion when an already designed military vehicle could be bought.

A stock 2017 model Dacia Duster from the Romanian Military Police.
Source: MApN facebook

Conclusion

The Dacia Duster has entered the Romanian Military and has seen extensive use, albeit as a stock factory vehicle, with occasional upgrades for transport of goods and specific tasks, but never weapons. The Duster, despite being light, affordable and a great off-roader, is a car deemed underpowered by civilians. It is simply not a good platform for carrying heavy weights, thus making it impossible to add armor or close range weapons.

Dacia Duster TD based on the 2010 model. Illustration by Pavel Alexe, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Sources

Duster Army: chemat la oaste!


https://www.romaniaperoti.ro/stiri/stiri-auto/duster-army-noua-creatie-a-dacia-pentru-armata.html

Date tehnice si imagini cu noua Dacia Duster Army NATO -Versiunea militara a Daciei Duster 2014


https://www.auto-bild.ro/teste/dacia-duster-army-cu-duster-la-razboi-30488.html

Dacia Duster Army ar putea echipa forţele române. Anunţul a venit azi – GALERIE FOTO


https://www.car.info/en-se/dacia/duster/duster-2018-16489285/specs

Dacia Duster

ARTEMIS® Medium Range

Dacia Duster Technology Demonstrator specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 4.315 x 2.000 x 1.625 m
(14 x 6.5 x 5 feet)
Curb weight 1,670 kg
3681.72 lb
Crew 5 (driver, turret operator + 3 passengers)
Propulsion 1.5 dCi 110 hp with 4×4 drive
Speed 120 km/h in straight line
60 km/h with ACF tracks
Armament 7,62 mm / .50 cal / DShK 12,7 mm machine gun turrets
Total Production 2 SUV + 1 pickup
Categories
Cold War Romanian Armor Modern Romanian others

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: cartula.ro

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

Characteristics

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: valka.cz


Top view of the Model 1989 showing the engine deck and hatches. Source: valka.cz
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

Conclusion

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: valka.cz
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

Dimensions
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
mfa.ro (manufacturer’s site)
arsenal.ro (manufacturer’s site) (archived link)
SIPRI trade register
britannica.com
The author would like to extend his gratitude to steppewolf for translating some of the sources above.

Categories
Cold War Romanian Prototypes Modern Romanian others

MLI-84M mortar variant

 Romania (2015)
Mortar Carrier (Planned Variant)

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An un-silhouetted, but low quality rendering from the patent of the MLI-84M with a CARDOM mortar. Some internal details can be seen.
On the 25th of September, 2015, Pro Optica S.A. and MFA S.A. Mizil, two prominent Romanian defense companies, filed a patent for a new variant of the MLI-84M. The five inventors who were credited on the patent were Lespezeanu Ion, Jipa Vasile, Oțelea Traian, Șerbănescu Paul, and Mareș Marcel. This MLI-84M variant is equipped with a 120mm mortar and carries some unique features. There is no real name given to this variant, however, MFA’s official website has it listed under “Future Military products”, but the link leads to a couple of images of the MLVM variant with a 120mm mortar, a MLVM variant which MFA has deemed as one of their “Past Military products”.
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MLVM armed with a domestic 120mm M1982 mortar. The newly discovered 120mm mortar armed MLI-84M variant is likely the spiritual successor of this vehicle. Image source: mfa.ro
MFA’s website refers to it as “120mm Mortar on MLI-84M chassis” and the patent refers to it as ‘Mașina de Luptă cu Sistem de Armament Tip Aruncator Calibru 120mm, Integrat’ which translates in English to ‘Fighting Vehicle with a 120mm Caliber Mortar Type Armament System’.
The purpose of this vehicle is to support ground forces directly by ensuring the annihilation and neutralization of enemy personnel, equipment, and positions using its 120mm mortar. In addition, the invention brings an increase of firepower, precision, mobility, and modularity. Presumably, compared to the 120mm mortar carrying MLVM variant which it may or may not be replacing.
Earliest mention known mention of the MLI-84M mortar variant is during the Cincu 2004 test and trials. MFA showed off the design of the vehicle. Some time before 2015, MFA was negotiating with the Romanian Ministry of National Defence to equip the Forțele Terestre Române (Romanian Land Forces) with MLI-84M mortar variants between 2015-2017. It appears such a thing has not happened. So far, whether the vehicle design has been built, still in development, or the project was scrapped entirely is unknown.
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An image taken during Cincu 2004 showing boards with supposed drawings of the MLI-84M mortar variant. Due to poor image quality, the drawings can not be properly seen. A Zimbru 2000 and an MLVM mortar variant (possibly modernized), presumably being trialed, can be seen on the left side of the boards. Source: MFA

Characteristics

The vehicle is based on the MLI-84M standard which itself is based off the MLI-84, a licensed Romanian BMP-1 copy with a slightly modified design. Whether the 120mm mortar armed MLI-84M variant is or will be converted from the MLI-84M or MLI-84 is unknown, but it is likely the latter due to MLI-84s being mass converted into MLI-84Ms and its variants.
Alternatively, according to unverified sources, the MLI-84M mortar variant will be based on the Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989, a Romanian version of the 2S1 Gvozdika. The Model 89’s hull is based off the MLI-84 and 42 Model 89s are in storage since the 2000’s which makes them a prime candidate for conversion.

Mobility

This variant most definitely retains the same 400 hp, 2,200 rpm, 6 cylinder, 4 stroke, turbocharged, C9 Caterpillar diesel engine as on the other MLI-84M variants. An exact weight is not given though it is likely around the 17 tonnes as on the other variants. This means an exact power to weight ratio cannot be determined. The mechanical transmission for the MLI-84M has five gears forward and one gear backwards.
Length and width are expected to be the same as the other MLI-84M variants as they all have the same length of 7.32 meters and a width of 3.3 meters. However, since this variant uses a 120mm mortar instead of a remote weapons station, superstructure, or crane as on the other variants, the height will most likely differ.
The suspension is also likely similar if not the same as on the MLI-84M. The MLI-84M’s suspension consists of drive gears at the front, three return rollers on each side, six road wheels on each side connected to torsion bars, and the idler wheels at the rear. Hydraulic shock absorbers with bilateral action are installed on each side on the first, second, and sixth road wheels.
As on the other MLI-84M variants, a single driver controls the vehicle.

Firepower

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An illustration from the patent of the 120mm mortar being used on the MLI-84M mortar variant.
There is no information about the 120mm mortar itself listed on the patent. However, from what the illustrations of the 120mm mortar show, it is identified as the Israeli 120mm CARDOM mortar manufactured by Soltam Systems (now owned by Elbit Systems). It is currently not known whether Romania has acquired the CARDOM mortar, is in the process to do so, or if negotiations have ended.
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CARDOM 120mm/81mm recoil mortar system being marketed in Brazil by Elbit Systems’ Brazilian subsidiary, ARES. Image source: Thai Military and Asian Region blog
According to Elbit Systems, the CARDOM is an autonomous and computerized 120mm recoil mortar system which fits with NATO standards. The state-of-the-art fire control system combines an ‘Inertial Navigation System’ (INS) which automatically lays the CARDOM to the intended target via electrical drives and a ‘Battle Management System’ (BMS). The CARDOM is in service with the U.S. Army, Israeli Defence Force, and various other militaries. The 700 kg 120mm mortar is able to rotate 360 degrees with the rate of fire of 16 rounds per minute with a firing range of 7000 meters. A minimum of 2 crew members are required although 4 is recommended.
The 120mm CARDOM is likely operated by a crew of two since when the vehicle is on the move, only two foldable chairs for the mortar operators are drawn with the battery box (most likely to power the 120mm CARDOM) attached.
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A silhouette illustration from the patent of the foldable seats (shown unfolded) for the mortar crew. Number 28 points to the battery box.
The 120mm mortar armed MLI-84M variant will likely have an accessory identified as an anti-double load attachment at the end of the barrel. This is shown in the diagram of the wiring scheme of the fire control system of the 120mm CARDOM for this variant. This attachment prevents another mortar round from being loaded until the one previously loaded has fired in order to prevent combustion of the two mortar rounds.
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A diagram of the wiring scheme of the fire control system for the CARDOM on the MLI-84M. On the middle-right, an anti-double load attachment can be seen for the CARDOM.
The 120mm mortar has a certain degree of modularity. For example, it can be relatively easily removed from the vehicle and attached to the ground. It is mounted on a specially made holding frame and the interior side walls have been strengthened to effectively handle the recoil. The ammunition is stored laterally with the vehicle on each side of the CARDOM mortar. Each type of ammunition is separated via a wall and fastened down with a clamp.
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A silhouette illustration from the patent of the holding frame for the 120mm CARDOM.
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A silhouette illustration from the patent of the storage for the 120mm mortar rounds.


The original MLI-84. Illustration by David Bocquelet

MLI-84M illustration by David Bocquelet.
The upgraded MLI-84M IFV, on which the mortar variant would be based. Illustration by David Bocquelet.

Protection

This MLI-84M variant likely has very similar, if not the same protection as the MLI-84M which may differ from the original MLI-84.
This variant is given right and left shutters for the protection of the crew members and the 120mm CARDOM mortar. When it is the time to fire the 120mm mortar, the left and right shutters would open thus revealing the mortar and the internals. Once firing is completed, the mortar can lie back down and have the shutter conceal the mortar and the internals.
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Three silhouette illustrations from the patent of the left and right shutters at three different angles.

Conclusion

This newly discovered MLI-84M variant presents itself as an opportunity for the Romanian Land Forces to receive updated and modern means of self-propelled indirect fire, which they seem to be currently lacking. It’s also an opportunity to repurpose and refurbish outdated equipment. As stated earlier, it is not known if Romania will be receiving these vehicles. However, the project being referenced on MFA’s website suggests that it may be planned.
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A silhouetted illustration from the patent of the 120mm mortar armed MLI-84M variant.
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Silhouette illustrations from the patent of the 120mm CARDOM, holding ring, and baseplate combined and separated.
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An image of an unmodified MLI-84. Image source: Romtechnica
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An image of an MLI-84M missing its guided missile launcher. Image source: MFA
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An image of the the MLVM armed with a domestically produced 120mm M1982 mortar. Compared to the CARDOM, it is very rudimentary. Image source: “Artileria Română În Date aI Imagini”

MLI-84M with 120mm CARDOM specifications

Dimensions  (L x W x H) 7.3 m x 3.3 m x N/A m (24 ft x 10.8 ft x N/A ft)
Total weight, battle ready Approx. 17 tonnes
Crew 4 or more (driver, commander, 2 or more mortar operators)
Propulsion 400 hp @ 2,200 rpm, 4 stroke, turbocharged, C9 Caterpillar diesel engine
Suspension Torsion bars & hydraulic shock absorbers with bilateral action
Speed (road) N/A
Range N/A
Armament 120mm CARDOM recoil mortar system
Armor Likely the same as on the MLI-84M
Total production N/A
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index

Links, Resources & Further Reading

MLI-84M mortar variant patent
120/81mm CARDOM PDF by Elbit Systems
mfa.ro (manufacturer’s site)