Romanian Modern Armor
Circa 2,200 AFVs as of 2021
- 4K51 Rubezh in Romanian Service
- Dacia Duster Army Technology Demonstrator
- MLI-84M Mortar Variant
- Obuzierul autopropulsat românesc, Model 1989
The modern Romanian state was born from the burning wreck of the old Communist state, and with the blood of more than 1,000 Romanians on its hands. Starting on 16th December 1989, a cycle of small-scale but violent protests, armed repression, and popular uprising repeated itself across Romania, culminating on 22nd December in Bucharest. On that day, at around 12:30, the dictatorial couple of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu flew away in a helicopter as protesters broke into the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, unmolested by either the Army or the Securitate, both present in force and well armed.
What followed was the quick pledge of allegiance from the Army and Securitate to the Revolution (this pledge, in fact, represented a palace coup) and the quick disintegration of the Romanian Communist Party. With the quick collapse of the main governing bodies and the subordination of the Securitate (the secret service, which had also been responsible for political repression) and the Miliție (the Police) to the Army, the Romanian Army became the sole standing force in Romania.
What followed is one of the large mysteries of 20th century Europe. With Ceaușescu captured and well in hand, the Communist Party gone and all force institutions pledging loyalty to the Revolution, a brutal fight against “diversionist terrorists” errupted on the streets of Romania, claiming 828 lives. The initial repression ordered by Ceaușescu had led to only 271 deaths. Who these “diversionist terrorists” were is a mystery to this day. Various authors have pointed to the Securitate (either in full or just some rogue elements), the Army (either intentionally or out of fear and confusion), fanatical battalions secretly raised by Ceaușescu, external special forces and sabotage groups (Soviet, Hungarian, French, Yugoslavian, American, Israeli), or the plethora of civilians that received weapons during the Revolution. The answer is unknown publicly to this day. Despite the fact that the modern Romanian state should have at its disposal all the means, information, and proof to indicate who killed so many people and why, it has repeatedly failed to do so, to the point where it is obvious it is actually refusing to.
Armor was present in force on the streets of Romania during the Revolution, with TABs, the license production versions of the Soviet BTRs, being ubiquitous and even tanks featuring heavily in Timișoara, where some were ambushed and captured at one point. Armored vehicles were also present in the country’s capital, at the breaking of the Inter blockade, the defense of the Ministry of Defense, killing of the USLA troops in ABI armored cars, and in destroying the Central University Library. The Romanian armor was not only involved in the murder of Romanian citizens in Bucharest and Timișoara, but also the destruction of countless priceless volumes and works and the hunt for the yet invisible terrorists that appeared shortly after Ceaușescu fled.
Politically, the semi-improvised FSN (Frontul Salvării Naționale, National Salvation Front), headed by Ion Iliescu, took hold of power, in an attempt to set up a quasi-democratic perestroika government. The Front was composed of many members from the former Communist Party, including Iliescu himself, and some people that are suspected of having been Soviet agents. This, combined with a series of controversial moves and general instability amongst the population, lead to a series of protests, some violent, such as the Târgu Mureș ethnical clashes and the Mineriade, an exclusively Romanian event where social unrest and political protests were resolved by calling coal miners to Bucharest to violently attack the protesters.
Nonetheless, several other parties were formed, some using the names of pre-1948 parties, and a general election was held in May 1990, marking the end of the Romanian Revolution from a judicial point of view. FSN’s landslide victory made Iliescu the first president of Romania. Logically, this was met with protests from the public, most notably the Golaniad and later Mineriads. Iliescu would remain president until 1996 and regain power again in 2000. By now Romania was a semi-presidential, parliamentary republic, where the president is the head of state, while the prime minister is the head of government.
The 1996 elections would represent the first transfer of power without clashes and protests, as Emil Constantinescu became president. During his 4 year mandate, privatization and economic shock tactics continued to be used, though the bureaucracy and corruption, as in previous years, slowed progress down. Effectively, Romania had been a political playground for the whole decade, while the quality of life and economy were seriously degraded, and poverty became widespread.
The November 2000 elections punished the previous government’s failure to improve the quality of life, and instead brought Iliescu back to power with the PDSR (Partidul Democrației Sociale în România, Party of Social Democracy in Romania) which was renamed in 2001 to Partidul Social Democrat (Social Democratic Party, PSD) after unification with the Romanian Social Democratic Party. The PSD, headed by Adrian Năstase, alongside the ethinic Hungarian party UDMR (Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania) created a government for the following 4 years, seeing minor economic growth and political stability. On October 2003 a referendum changed the Romanian constitution and laws to comply with those of the European Union, bringing the long discussed dreams of joining the EU closer to reality.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the newly formed PNL/PD alliance won, and the following month’s presidential election brought Traian Băsescu to power, notable for being former Mayor of Bucharest and Minister for Transport. During this period, Romania entered an economic boom, growing from a GDP of little under $30 billion in 2003 to over $214 billion in 2008. The 2008 financial crisis hit Romania hard, recovering only in mid-2017 to the same value as 2008 (without taking inflation in consideration). GDP per capita would follow a similar chart. Romania would join the EU in 2007, something which would help Romania greatly in the long run, but which lead to a massive amount of Romanians leaving the country in search for a better future in Western Europe. Traian Băsescu won a second presidential term in 2009.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis, the Mayor of Sibiu for the previous 14 years, were the main rivals in the 2014 presidential elections. While Ponta would initially win the first round of voting, it caused scandals over Ponta’s handling of votes outside the country, and the second round saw Iohannis win. During his presidency, Romania has experienced another economic boom, with many sectors, such as IT, experiencing large growths on local and national levels. However, this growth was equaled with rapid inflation. Between 2017 and 2019, a spree of protests emerged again, caused by countless scandals and general dissatisfaction of the people with the ruling party, PSD. Klaus Iohannis would also be reelected in 2019, after a landslide victory in the second round against PSD’s Viorica Dăncilă, who was the first Romanian woman prime minister. Since then, the Romanian economy and general population’s mood have slightly deteriorated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s poor handling of the situation, although they are currently stable.
After the fall of Communism, the Romanian military started a slow shift from Soviet-style doctrine and battle tactics to a NATO-style professional army. Considerable experience was gained by soldiers sent in UN and, eventually, NATO missions abroad, as well as highlighting large issues, such as poor equipment. A large amount of materiel was retired, scrapped, and sold, and the total number of active personnel was decreased. As of 2021, Romania still has a moderately large number of 68,500 active personnel. Conscription was also removed in 2006, with the goal of creating an army of professional career soldiers with better equipment. Romania still has an impressive reserve force, with around 58,000 members, in 2021.
Romania in NATO
In 1991, Romania contacted the NATO General Secretary about joining the organization, though plans and talks on this topic came in the first post-Communist months. However, it was only in 2003 when words became actions, when Romania’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Mircea Geoană, signed the accession protocols alongside other Eastern European nations. On 26th February 2004, the Romanian Government passed the law to join NATO, and on 29th March, Prime Minister Adrian Năstase signed the letter to join the treaty. Since then, Romania has presented itself as a strong pillar for the organization in the region, hosting annual multinational military exercises, hosting the NATO Force Structure – Multinational Division Southeast and NATO Force integrated unit in Bucharest. To aid in interoperability between members, Romania also hosts a Multinational Brigade in Craiova and Combined Joint Enhanced Training Initiative. Romania also takes part in Enhanced Forward Presence, sending Oerlikon autocannons and Gepard SPAAGs to Poland.
Romanian tank organization
After 1989, the Romanian military began to walk away from the Soviet-style military. In terms of armour and artillery, this meant less technical equipment per unit, whether tank or artillery. The restructuration process was between 1993 and 1995. A platoon of tanks had 4 tanks, a tank company had 13 (4 platoons of 3 tanks each + 1 command tank) while a tank battalion had 40 tanks (3 companies of 13 tanks each + 1 battalion command tank). A single tank battalion was part of a mechanized regiment. The same system would be applied to “annex units”, created in times of war.
After 2002, when the process of joining NATO began, the tank structures were changed yet again, this time to NATO organization. A platoon has 5 tanks, a tank company has 17 tanks (15 tanks from 3 platoons, a tank company commander and backup commander tank), and lastly, a tank battalion has 54 tanks (3 companies of 17 tanks, a tank of the general staff, a tank battalion commander and backup commander tank). Romania now has the following active tank battalions:
- 814th tank battalion “Mihai Vodă” (T-55)
- 912th tank battalion “Schytia Minor” (T-55)
- 114th tank battalion “Petre Cercel” (T-55)
- 631st tank battalion “Oituz” (TR-85)
- 282nd tank battalion “Cuza Vodă” / Cavalerii Negrii (TR-85M1)
Deveselu Ballistic Missile Defense Base
Compared locally to Area-51, the ballistic missile defense base hosts an Aegis Ashore SM-3 interceptor system. The agreement between the US and Romania governments for the system was made in 2011 and construction began in 2013. The US claims it is a solely defensive system, made to intercept missiles from Iran.
External Military Interventions
The first post-1989 military interventions took place in 1991, when Romania took part in the UN UNIKOM (United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission) operations in Kuwait. Romania remained neutral during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, but allowed NATO airforces to use its airspace, especially during the 1999 NATO bombings. However, Romania did send an engineer battalion as part of NATO’s SFOR (Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina) mission in Bosnia & Herzegovina, later sending more troops and APCs, remaining there until 2003.
In contrast, Romania to this day does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state. Since the early 2000s, Romania has participated in NATO KFOR (Kosovo Force) missions. Hundreds of soldiers, armored vehicles, and logistical equipment were sent during the first half of the 2000s. As of 2022, Romania still has 50 soldiers deployed.
Romania joined NATO operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003 respectively, even before it was a NATO member. Special uniforms and desert camouflage schemes were ordered. Initially, Romania sent TAB B33s, TABC-79s, and ARO cars for its troops for patrol and policing duties, but it quickly became clear that the lack of armor and awful IED protection on these vehicles would prove disastrous. The US eventually provided Romania with Humvees and International MAxxPro MRAPs for use in deployment. In Afghanistan, at its peak, Romania sent over 2,000 troops at a time, and served mostly in Kandahar. After 19 years, Romania retreated from Afghanistan in June 2021, alongside other NATO nations. A total of 32,000 Romanian soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan, with 27 lost in action and 227 injured, in what has been Romania’s longest military operation. Romania also temporarily retreated its remaining 14 troops from Iraq in 2020, after participating in the occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and subsequent peacekeeping missions. After NATO decisions, Romania redeployed 150 troops to Iraq in 2021. Over 10,000 Romanian troops in total served in Iraq.
Romania has also participated in operations in Mali between October 2019 to October 2020, with a detachment of the Carpathian Pumas equipped with IAR-330 Puma L-RM helicopters. A total of 350 combat missions were completed, which included medical rescue, reconnaissance, air police, surveillance, and transport.
In 2022, Romania joined the rest of the EU in supporting Ukraine taking refugees and supplying medicine and fuel, whilst also, militarily, transferring weapons and other equipment, during the Russian invasion.
ROMARM and Military Industry
The previously state-owned enterprises focusing on military equipment and weapons were either bundled together into ROMARM (Romanian Armament), a state-owned company or sold off for privatization.
Founded in 1972, in the same place as the former gun factory, Arsenal Reșița has built the vast majority of howitzers and cannons in Romanian service, from the 100 mm main gun of the TR-85 to the M1981 152 mm field howitzer. It has been a subsidiary of ROMARM since 2001. Nowadays, the factory has a very small fiscal value and has negative annual profits.
Beginning operations in 1922, the company moved to military products in 1936. Today, Carfil produces RPGs, recoilless rifles, mortars, and specific munitions and projectiles, such as the RPG-7 and 82 mm M1977 mortar. It has been a member of ROMARM since 2001 and is the Romanian Army’s main supplier of RPG and mortar projectiles.
F.A. Cugir (Fabrica de Arme Cugir)
Probably one of the best known Romanian arms producers, the Cugir plant has been supplying infantry weapons, from the 9 mm Md.1974 Carpați hand pistol, to the famous PA md.86, which is the main weapon used by Romanian infantry. Their weapons have been exported since the 60s to dozens of nations across the globe and have been seen in most wars since. The Cugir mechanical plant split up in 2004, and F.A. Cugir joined ROMARM in 2005.
UMB (Uzina Mecanică București)
Based in southeastern Bucharest, UMB was Romania’s tank producing factory through the Cold War. As production of tanks was halted and older tanks began to age, UMB transitioned to upgrades and maintenance. TR-77s and TR-85s were built in UMB between 1977 and 1991. Between 1999 and 2009, the TR-85M1s were upgraded. The Piranha V APCs are also to be assembled here, but how much assembling is done in Romania, and if it has even begun, is unknown. The company also does steelworks on the civilian market. It joined ROMARM in 2001.
MFA (Mechanical Factory for Armament) Mizil
Another tank building factory, Mizil has built and worked on Romanian IFVs, such as the MLI-84, and its latter modernization. Other products were the MLVM and subsequent prototypes, such as the MLVM mortar carrier, MLI-84 mortar carrier, and Ob. Md.1989. The company joined ROMARM in 2001, but was privatized one year later and now focuses mostly on civilian products.
The main producer of APCs, Moreni has built hundreds of APCs for the Romanian military, such as the TAB-71, TAB-77, TAB-B33, TABC-79, or armored vehicles for the Gendarmerie. It was one of the few plants that successfully continued its activity well after the 1990s, with the Saur prototypes. In 2017, it created a joint company with Rheinmetall for designing and producing the Agilis 8×8, but the program went nowhere. Nowadays, Moreni focuses mostly on collaborating with MApN on the maintenance of APCs. It has been part of ROMARM since 2001, with the factory being founded in 1968.
Aerostar SA Bacău
Founded in 1953, Aerostar is one Romania’s largest suppliers of aeronautics and avionics, and has been behind countless upgrades of MiG-21s, MiG-29s, C-130s, and started upgrades on F-16s in 2021. Prior to the Revolution, 1,500 YaK-52s were built by Aerostar, as well as the engines for the IAR-93.
Starting life as Uzinele Steagul Rosu (Red Flag Works) in 1948 on the outskirts of Brașov, it became the largest truck manufacturer for the Socialist Republic of Romania. During the first two decades, they mostly built military and utilitary trucks, such as the Bucegi and Carpați. In 1967, production licenses were bought from MAN, and the trucks were called ROMAN. Hundreds of thousands of trucks of dozens of types were built from then onwards for all industries. After the fall of Communism, the factory was privatized, and while orders fell drastically and thousands were fired, the factory was still doing well, selling trucks to the US, Romanian, and Iraqi military. It entered insolvency in 2014, and survived on whatever contracts it could sign, trying to continue exports to Pakistan, Taiwan, or Malaysia. A contract worth €2 million with the Romanian military was signed in 2017 for 23 trucks. Another maintenance contract, worth €2.4 million, signed with the Romanian military in 2021, aims to help the company to exit insolvency.
Founded in 1991, this small private company situated on the outskirts of Bucharest has made several prototypes and projects for the Romanian military, including a new 5.56 x 45 mm assault rifle (NATO cartridge) based on the AKs built at Cugir, and two light utility vehicles based on the F-350, named Dracon. In 2020, they also developed, alongside ACTTM (Agenția de Cercetare pentru Tehnică și Tehnologii Militare, Agency for Research of Military Equipment and Technology) and ROMARM of MApN, an isolette for transporting COVID-19 patients. They are also among the main suppliers of body armor for the Romanian Army.
IVECO Defence Vehicles Romania
As an offset to the 2020 contract between IVECO and MApN for 942 trucks, IVECO opened a manufacturing plant in Petreşti, Dâmbovița county. At 9,000 m² and costing €50 million, it can produce 440 vehicles a year on 3 production lines. According to Ludovic Orban, Romanian Prime Minister at the time, the plant would create 200 jobs.
A small company in Bucharest that was privatized in 2001, Pro Optica designs and produces optical electrical systems for fire control systems, imagers, sensors, and RCWS. They have supplied equipment to the Romanian military and have made a variety of different prototypes and technology demonstrators.
Ground Forces Equipment
With the fall of Communism, the Romanian Army inherited all of the equipment and tactics from the previous regime. However, the majority of the military equipment was not of Soviet provenance, but domestically developed/produced. This was thanks to Ceaușescu’s attempts to make Romania a independent country from the USSR in several fields, not just military.
Some of the domestic armored fighting vehicles and military vehicles developed and produced during the Communist era in service post-1989 are:
- TR-77-580 (handful in service)
- TR-85-800 (1 battalion left, 54 upgraded to TR-85M1)
- MLVM (76 in service)
- MLI-84 (handful left in museums, most upgraded to MLI-84M)
- TABC-79 (renamed to ABC-79)
- ABI (retired in the 90s)
- GRAD MLRS on DAC-665T
- DAC 665T and other trucks
- Various cars and vans (mostly retired and scrapped/sold)
Soviet Equipment in Service Post-1989
Despite Ceaușescu’s efforts, the Romanian Army still relied heavily on Soviet imports, especially on more complex equipment, such as rockets and missiles. Most were still used by the Romanian military even after the fall of Communism.
- T-72M (retired in 2005)
- T-55 & T-55AM2 (2-3 battalions left)
- BTR-50PU, MT-LB, and BTR-60 (used for radars, mostly retired and sold off)
- 2S1 Gvozdika (retired in 2005, 6 in stock)
- SU-100 (retired in 2005, 47 in stock)
- BM-27 Uragan, 2P19 TEL, and 9K52 Luna-M (retired in the early 1990s, sold off)
- S-75M3 Volhov (6 batteries in service)
- 9K111 Fagot, 9M113 Konkurs, and 9P122 Malyutka (in service, some mounted on BRDM-2)
- Gaz, ZiL, Ural, and KrAZ trucks (mostly scrapped and sold off)
- 4K51 Rubezh (4 in service, to be replaced by NSM)
- 2K12 Kub (8 batteries, 40 launchers in service)
- 9K33B3 Osa-AKM (4 batteries, 28 launchers in service)
Curiously though, Romania had built up a large defense industry in other areas as well, having built its own helicopters with French Alouette licenses, the IAR-330 and IAR-316, its own jet fighters and trainers, such as IAR-93 and IAR-99, and several warships, such as the Mihail Kogâlniceanu-class river monitors or the Mărășești frigate. Romania still has several functioning shipyards building both civilian and military ships, as well as aviation workshops, focused on the maintenance and upgrading of existing aircraft.
After the fall of Communism, development of AFVs stagnated, with only a handful of projects being continued in the 1990s. However, work was focused more on modernizing existing Soviet-era equipment to modern NATO standards. This would increase the service life of many vehicles at much lower costs, compared to developing domestic or purchasing foreign vehicles, something that the general public was, and still is, very much against.
In the past 30 years, local upgrades and modifications have been made and adopted into service. Most upgrades consist of taking old equipment and replacing outdated components, such as weapons, FCS, and engines with modern alternatives, often imported from other NATO companies.
TR-85M1 Bizonul (The Bison)
One of the most famous Romanian tanks, this is essentially just an upgrade of the older TR-85 and not a brand new MBT. Most noticeable are the changes made to the turret, including a large turret bustle, composite armor, FCS, night vision, thermal imager, and communications. A total of 54 were converted at UMB (Uzina Mecanica București) between 1997 and 2009. The tank remains, to this day, Romania’s most advanced tank in service. It is armed with the 100 mm A-308 gun, coaxial 7.62 PKT, and externally mounted 12.7 mm DShK. It weighs 50 tonnes and is equipped with the 8VS-A2T2M 8 cylinder turbocharged diesel,with a 860 hp output, allowing for a top speed of 60 km/h in ideal conditions. The 54 converted tanks are still in service.
MLI-84M Jderul (The Marten)
This is an upgrade of the MLI-84, which in turn was a license-built BMP-1 featuring considerable changes, such as a larger hull. By the 1990s, the turret and 2A28 Grom main armament became clearly obsolete. Thus, the project for an upgrade started. It consisted of changing the turret with an unmanned OWS 25R turret, equipped with 2 SPIKE_LR ATGMs, a 25 mm KBA Oerlikon autocannon, and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, as well as illumination warning systems, smoke grenade launchers, Caterpillar C-9 engine, and more. However, despite the more powerful engine, the extra weight has lowered the top speed to 65 km/h. Likewise, it now requires prior preparation to be amphibious. A total of 101 were upgraded in a contract worth $155 million from 1995 onwards, with 99 still in service.
TAB B33 Zimbrul (The Wisent)
Romania received the license for producing 70 BTR-80s from the USSR in 1987, with permission for its own modifications, as per the Army’s requirements. Production started in 1988, and continued well into the 1990s. Essentially just a BTR-80, it weighs 14 tonnes, uses a V8-DTS 280 hp, for a maximum speed of 85 km/h. It is armed with a KPVT 14.5 mm machine gun and coaxial 7.62 mm PKT. They saw extensive use in Romanian KFOR and Afghanistan missions, until they were replaced with US-provided MRAPs. The awful protection against IEDs and RPGs claimed the lives of several soldiers stationed there. No more than 70 were built and are still in service today, largely unmodified.
Based on the APRA-40 (Romanian built BM-21 Grad), the LAROM uses a Elbit FCS system, and most importantly, the 160 mm LAR Mk.4 rockets from Israel Defense Industries. The system was converted and designed at Aerostar Bacau. Development began in 1996 and the first systems were delivered in 2001, to the 8th Brigade. The chassis is a ROMAN 26.410 DFAEG with an armored cab, built at Roman Brasov. The Israeli rockets have a much higher range, up to 45 km. These have been used by the 8th Mixed Artillery Brigade “Alexandru Ioan Cuza”, but since the acquisition of HIMARS systems, LAROMs have been stationed elsewhere.
One of the 2 main derivatives of the TR-85M1, this armored mine clearing vehicle built and designed at UMB was first unveiled at Expomil 2007. Instead of a turret, the vehicle has a fixed superstructure with dozens of smoke grenade launchers. A hydraulic crane was also added, with a maximum lifting weight of 6.5 tonnes. In front, a dozer blade with 3 mine detonation arms have been added. An UMB RCWS armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun was added for protection. Around 5 have been built for the Romanian Army.
Bought to replace aging service cars, mainly AROs and older Dacias, they have become crucial in modernizing the fleet of cars and light utility vehicles used by the military and military police. The first were bought in 2015, and they are still being purchased as of 2021. A total of 886 units have been delivered, out of which 457 have a NATO tri-tone camouflage, applied directly in the Dacia plant in Mioveni. They have been purchased via the RABLA (wreck) program, which consists of giving an older car in exchange for a reduction in purchase price (€1,200 on the civilian market). Most are equipped with a 115 hp dCi diesel engine, and can carry 5 service personnel.
One of the 3 main variants of the MLI-84M1, weighing in at 17 tonnes, this armored recovery vehicle is designed to accompany its IFV counterpart, but can operate with most other armored vehicles. The turret has been removed and instead a fully rotating hydraulic crane has been mounted, with a maximum load of 2.2 tonnes. Developed and built alongside the other variants, it maintains its amphibious abilities, and can reach 65 km/h. It is unknown how many have been built and delivered to the military.
MLI-84 MEDEVAC & Battalion Command
The two other variants of the MLI-84M1, these vehicles are based on the same vehicle, but have different equipment for different roles. One is a MEDEVAC, an armored ambulance for offering aid and transport for 2 to 3 wounded personnel, the other is a battalion command post, with communication devices. The vehicles use the same MLI chassis, however, a large armored superstructure has been added for more internal space, increasing the weight to almost 18 tonnes.
Foreign Vehicles Imports
Like many other modern militaries, the Romanian military has had to rely more and more on foreign imports, despite the fact that Romania could previously produce such equipment. This phenomenon is partially caused by the aging and deteriorating factories, which no longer have the equipment, facilities, and personnel to build large amounts of equipment, but also because modern AFVs are a lot more complex than what Romania would formerly produce. Many electronics and technological equipment are far too complex to be designed in Romania. As part of NATO, Romania has relied mostly on equipment from other NATO countries and companies, such as General Dynamics, MOWAG, Panhard, UROVESA, Rheinmetall, or Elbit. Yet Romania is no longer a centrally planned economy, relying on own resources in the midst of the Cold War, but a free market economy. The impetus of domestic independence is no longer there, and in many cases attempts at industrial independence hurt the military more than it helps.
Designed by Swiss MOWAG American General Dynamics, the Piranha V is the fifth generation of the Piranha APCs and the most advanced. Acquired by Romania in 2017 as part of the TBT 8×8 program, first prioritized in 2011, 36 have entered service with the Romanian Army, specifically with the 26th Infantry Battalion “Neagoe Basarab”, nicknamed Scorpionii Rosii (Red Scorpions). As part of the contract, 227 have been ordered, out of which some have to be partially produced (assembled and painted) at UMB. The vehicle itself has hydropneumatic suspension, can pivot all wheels for a tighter turning radius and is equipped with an unmanned Elbit UT-30 Mk.II turret, armed with either a 30 mm autocannon or 12.7 mm machine gun.
Developed by MOWAG, this amphibious variant was purchased by the Romanian Government in May 2006, considering them as an urgent operational requirement, given how outdated the other APCs in Romanian service were, the bulk of them consisting of TAB-71 and TAB-77s (BTR-60 and BTR-70 equivalents). Several ambulance and recovery vehicles were also purchased later on, for a total of 43 vehicles. Some even received additional Israeli armored packages. It has a crew of three, commander, driver and gunner, plus 7 soldiers to transport. It used the same engine as on the MLI-84M1, a 400 hp C9 Caterpillar.
A total of 16 Panhard PVP (Petit Véhicule Protégé) were purchased and delivered between 2012 and 2015 to replace older ARO cars and supplement the HMMWV vehicles. Armored with STANAG level 2 and 2A, they have small turrets equipped with 7.62 mm Md.66 machine guns. Weighing just above 4 tonnes, they can reach a top speed of 120 km/h with their 8L turbo-diesel outputting 160 hp.
Purchased second-hand from the United States in large numbers, they are mostly used by special forces and military police, but also at larger bases. The main two variants, M1113 and M1114, have also received modifications and/or purchased for different roles, such as DShK machine gun turrets, radio station, or drone launchers. Likewise, they have also been used in Afghanistan. The HMMWV itself is one of the most iconic military vehicles, praised and used worldwide.
Purchased brand new from UROVESA (URO Vehículos Especiales S.A.), the VAMTAC (Vehículo de Alta Movilidad TÁCtico) is essentially a Spanish version of the HMMWV, although technically unrelated. Romania first purchased unarmored variants in 2005 for the Romanian Special Forces, specifically 42 S3 and 20 S3-HD uparmored variants. Several variants have been purchased and modified locally, including radio station, DShK heavy machine gun turret, Spike ATGM launchers, and more. Driven by a Steyr turbocharged 188 hp diesel engine, the vehicle can reach 135 km/h.
Wolf Armored Car
Built by Israeli company Hatehof, the Wolf armored car is based on the Ford F-550 chassis, using a325 hp V8 6 l diesel engine. Having the ability to be used as the chassis for various roles and variants, the Wolf armored car was designed between 2002 and 2005, and entered production a year later, in 2006. The same year, the Romanian military purchased 3 standard-equipped vehicles for use by the military police, in a €742,500 contract. Since then, they are used by the 265th Military Police ‘Tudor Vladimirescu’ battalion.
The German Gepard SPAAG, based on the Leopard 1 MBT, was made in West Germany during the 1960s and 1970s. It is armed with 2x 35 mm Oerlikon KDA autocannons with an effective range of over 5,000 m. The system has two radars, one for searching, which can detect targets from 15 km away, and one for tracking. A total of 36 (and another 7 for spare parts) B2L systems were donated by the Bundeswehr to Romania in August of 1998 as support for joining NATO. They belong to the 3rd AA defense battalion ‘Potaissa’, and as of 2020, are stationed in Poland.
After several deadly crashes, it became clear that Communist era DAC and ROMAN trucks were simply getting old and unsafe. Thus, in 2015, a contract was signed between the Romanian Ministry of Defense and Italian IVECO for 53 trucks. A second batch of 173 trucks was ordered in late 2017, mainly 6×6 and 8×8 prime movers. A third contract for 942 trucks in several configurations was signed in February 2020. As offset, an assembly plant was to be set up in Romania as well, where 80% of the trucks would be built. The contracts came under considerable controversy from the public, as Romania has its own military truck plant, ROMAN, which, due to insolvency, cannot provide the necessary amount of trucks.
Romania is the first NATO member to acquire and operate the HIMARS multiple rocket launcher, aside from the US itself. Purchased in 2018 in a $128 million contract that involved 18 launchers, FCS, logistics, sensors, maintenance, cryptographics, and personnel training. The systems arrived in Romania via ship in February 2021 and have been fielded by the 81st Tactical Missile Battalion ‘Maior Gheorghe Sontu’ in Focșani, eastern Romania. The systems are mounted on armored FMTV 5-tonne 6×6 trucks. They can fire six unguided 227 mm M26 rockets with a range of 32 km, or a single MGM-140 ATACMS missile with a 310 km range (for the most modern variant) and Mach 3 speed. A $1.25 billion contract was also approved in 2018 for 54 launchers and subsequent systems.
A 15 tonne air-transportable engineering vehicle, the NX-7 trencher uses a M.A.T.I. conveyor belt to dig different types of trenches with varying depths. Maximum trench width is 60 cm, maximum depth is 180 cm, and maximum work rate is 210 m/h. Based on a Matenin 4×4 truck, it was introduced in French service in the mid-1970s, but was purchased by Romania in the mid-2000s. Very little is known about it in Romanian service, how many were purchased, and if they are still in service. It has a fording depth of 1 m and can climb a 45 cm vertical obstacle. The vehicle was offered by CEFA, but Romania most likely bought them second-hand from the French Army, which was phasing them out at the time.
Bought second-hand alongside the NX-7 trencher, the MFRD (Moyen de Forage Rapide de Destruction), is a drilling and destruction (counter-mobility) engineering vehicle, built at Constructions Industriels d’Anjou based on a Pinguely-Haulotte 4×4 truck. The French military ordered 122 vehicles in 1981, but has phased most of them out by the time of writing. It is capable of drilling a 6 meter long hole in 7 minutes in moderate ground, or 10 to 25 minutes in rock or concrete. Similarly to the NX-7, information about its use in the Romanian Army is lacking.
Prototypes and Projects
For the past 30 years, private or state companies (those which survived the first post-Communist decades, have made different designs and prototypes to attract both domestic and foreign customers. However, because of the lack of funding of state companies and the poor finances of private companies, such ‘ambitious’ plans have never gone far. The Romanian defense industry has simply been unable to keep up with the worldwide industry’s shift to advanced electronic and robotic devices.
Romania purchased 30 T-72 Ural-1s in 1977, which began to be delivered in 1978. However, the Soviets did not accept the request for a license for domestic production of the T-72. Thus the reverse engineering of the tank began, leading to many improvements and changes. The program was still in the prototype and testing phase by the fall of Communism. Due to it being rather expensive, the program was canceled in the mid-1990s and the tank was renamed P-125, P standing for ‘prototip’. The money was instead used for upgrading the current TR-85s to TR-85M1s.
A mid 1990s project to equip the Romanian Army with a modern MBT, it was based on the most capable Romanian tank at the time, the TR-125. However, it would be largely changed, with new engines, turrets, and even a 120 mm Rheinmetall gun. Designed alongside Krauss-Maffei, at least 3 different models existed, with varying degrees of improvements and costs. Several 3D models were made, but due to lack of budget, the program never went anywhere. Simultaneously, the Swedish offered Romania the Stridsvagn 122, a Swedish built Leopard 2A5. Even a delegation was sent to Romania, but nothing materialized.
A 6×6 developed jointly between Romanian Moreni factory and Turkish Nurol Makina throughout the 1990s, the vehicles never saw service within the Romanian military, which merely tested it and showed it at a 1st December parade. Only a handful of prototypes were built, with Romania never adopting them into service, having no real need for a 6×6 APC, and had more fruitful 8×8 programs in parallel. Turkey, on the other hand, gained significant experience, acquiring 5 vehicles. It served as a basis for Turkey’s first indigenous 6×6 APC, the Nurol Ejder. As per SIPRI, Bangladesh ordered 9 ambulance variants of the RN-94 from Romania in 2004, and were delivered in 2005.
Developed in the early 2000s as an upgrade to the B33 Zimbru (hence the name), the vehicle features a taller superstructure and, most importantly, Western-style rear entry-exit doors, a large improvement over the ever-controversial BTR-style side doors, a feature taken from the RN-94. It also received a new powerplant in the form of a Deutz BF 6M 1013 260 hp engine. Originally, the main armament was the same 14.7 mm main machine gun and 7.62 machine gun, but later, a Oerlikon turret was installed, armed with the 25 mm Oerlikon and 2 ATGMs, the same as the MLI-84M1 Jder and MLVM.
First unveiled at EXPOMIL 2007, the Saur 1 (called Zimbru 2006 during development), was the first indigineous Romanian APC designed and built at Moreni. It tried to reach NATO standards, as Romania had joined the organization a few years earlier. Despite this, the military was rather unimpressed. It was only armored to a STANAG 4569 level 1, with an option for upgrade to level 2. Initial armament was a RCWS with a single 7.62 mm machine gun, however, this could have been changed. Even the powerplant was not a large improvement over existing vehicles in service, a 275 hp Cummins diesel, allowing for mobility on par with other APCs, 100 km/h on-road and 10 km/h in water. The vehicle was marketed by ROMARM for almost a decade without success. The name Saur comes from the latin word meaning lizard, leaving many to draw the line between the extinct dinosaurs and the Romanian APCs, which suffered the same fate.
Following the disappointment of the Saur 1, ROMARM and Moreni started the development of a second prototype. This time, it left behind the ‘Soviet style’ look and tried to adopt a more Western design, both on the exterior and interior. The most important changes came with the armor, upgraded to STANAG 4569 level 2 with option for upgrades to level 3 for all-round protection, including 8 kg of TNT from underneath. It was also capable of mounting a wide variety of weapons and systems, either domestic or NATO compatible equipment, such as 30 mm autocannons, 120 mm mortars, or SAM launchers. Another large improvement was the powerplant, an impressive EURO 3 MAN 326 hp engine, allowing the 18 tonne vehicle to reach 100 km/h on-land and 10 km/h on water. The Romanian Army tested the vehicle and even displayed it in the 2013 1st December parade, painted in NATO colors. Unfortunately, the Romanian military still decided against it and instead purchased 43 Swiss Piranha IIICs.
Saur 3 / TBT 8×8
On 17th March 2011, the Romanian Army launched the TBT 8×8 program (Transportor Blindat pentru Trupe). With experiences from Afghanistan and the increasing popularity of MRAPs, the Moreni factory decided to develop an entirely new vehicle which could withstand large quantities of explosives. A wooden mock-up was built to represent the general size and appearance. In 2014, a ballistic test vehicle was tested, with STANAG level 3A (8 kg of TNT) against explosives underneath the vehicle, and level 2KA against bullets. The vehicle inherited the name of the program, TBT 8×8, but was called Saur 3. Due to this additional armor, the weight increased to 21 tonnes. The engine was to be a German 420 hp unit, allowing the vehicle to reach a theoretical top speed of 105 km/h. It would have kept its amphibious capabilities, with 10 km/h top speed on water. The entire program went in the dark from 2015 onwards, only to appear again presenting the Piranha V and Agilis 8×8 as potential new vehicles.
TBT 8×8 Agilis
The TBT 8×8 Agilis was developed by Romanian Military Vehicle Systems, a joint-venture between German Rheinmetall and Uzina Mecanica Moreni in 2017. It was to replace over 400 Cold War-era TABs still in service with the Romanian Army, while offering a cheaper alternative to the Boxer in Rheinmetall’s catalog. The main armament presented was the 30 mm Mauser inside an automated Lance 30 turret. The engine was to be a Liebherr 590 hp diesel for a top speed above 100 km/h. A variety of different derivatives were designed as well, including MEDEVAC, TEHEVAC (Technical Evacuation), command post, mortar, and CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear). Unfortunately, misunderstanding between the German and Romanian sides brought little investment to the project. The purchase of Piranha V also greatly reduced political interest in the program, while Romanian officials started to shift their attention to the purchase of the Puma IFV from Rheinmetall instead. Instead of having the first units leave the factory by 2020 like planned, it was long dead, with both parties losing interest.
MLVM w/ OWS 25R
The MLVM (Mașina de Lupta a Vânătorilor de Munte) was designed in the 1980s as a light IFV for the mountain troops, with the SU-76 as inspiration. To upgrade it to NATO standards, it received the same upgrades as the MLI-84M1, including the OWS 25R unmanned turret with the 25 mm Oerlikon autocannon, new FCS, smoke grenade launchers, and a Mercedes-Benz engine. The prototype was shown at Expomil 2005. Bizarrely though, the military never adopted the upgrades, and still uses the MLVM in its old configuration to this day. Another prototype was shown at EXPOMIL 2009 with the new Rafael RCWS-30 built alongside MFA.
ATROM 155 mm
FIrst unveiled at EXPOMIL 2003 by Aerostar Bacau, it was, arguably, one of the most effective Romanian SPG systems. The ATROM (Artilerie Transportabila Românească) was equipped with an autoloading Sultan 155 mm howitzer, with a rate of fire of 3 shots per 15 seconds, 15 shots in 3 minutes, or 75 shots in 60 minutes, over a range of 41 kilometers. It used the ROMAN 26.360 DFAEG 6×6 truck platform, with a 360 hpp MAN LF 24 engine. The entire system weighs 26 tonnes. A total of 3 different prototypes have been built and tested by the military, all featuring different cab designs in terms of ergonomics and armor. Despite the promising capabilities, the Romanian military was more interested in the LAROM, which had already entered service. To this day, Romania lacks designated SPGs in active service.
Dacia Duster Technology Demonstrator
A joint development project between Dacia and a host of other companies, the Dacia Duster Technology Demonstrator, a.k.a. “Army”, uses a UMB RCWS mounted on a steel frame that runs across the body of the car. Built in 2013 on the civilian Duster SUV, several variants were presented, using different RCWS and even a pickup variant with reconnaissance equipment on its flatbed. Unfortunately, the military never adopted them into service, however the Duster did eventually enter service within the military without these modifications.
The AM 7.0 was intended for the Romanian Gendarmerie (Jandarmeria), which belongs to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI). Designed and built at Automecanica Moreni with 4WD, the vehicle can carry up to 11 police in case of riots or terrorist attacks. It is protected at STANAG Level 2, enough to handle internal security issues. Being able to transport 10 police and a driver, the vehicle is equipped with various crowd dispersing features, but no water cannons. A second improved design, AM 7.0M, was also built in the 2000s, with an entirely new cab and improved features.
Dracon Multipurpose Light Utility Vehicle
This vehicle was designed and assembled by Stimpex SA during just 45 days for the BSDA 2018 exhibition. It uses a Ford F-350 for chassis and motorisation, while its cab is armored to STANAG level 2. Designed with versatility in mind, it has two length variations and can carry a host of weapons, from Spike ATGMs to rocket launchers or even an ambulance (MEDEVAC) configuration. Despite the quick design and production phase, a close-up analysis of the build and design quality reflects this. A second prototype, heavily modified and more ‘mature’ was tested by the Romanian military as of 2020, but so far, no orders have been placed.
A Brighter Future?
Since the allocation of 2% of the GDP to the Ministry of Defense, the Romanian military has finally seen important improvements, mainly new weapons, such as Patriot air-defense missiles, HIMARS artillery and ballistic missile systems, and others. Yet, even after 3 decades since the fall of Communism and nearly 2 decades since joining NATO, the Romanian military still uses Warsaw Pact munitions on infantry level, operates T-55 tanks, has not been able to replace hundreds of old APCs despite countless attempts, and employs MiG-21s, among countless other examples of an aging military.
Worst of all, Romania went from a successful tank and APC building nation to destroying its defense industry, whether it was through a lack of funding and the conservation of factories or short-term investments to gain votes in upcoming elections. Even with a well-equipped military, the import of foreign weapons is seen as a huge failure and national betrayal by the general public. This phenomenon spreads into most economic and industrial areas, and resonates mostly with older generations, who have lived to see the Romanian ‘golden era’ of the 1970s. This is, again, mostly attributed to the fundamental differences between a centrally planned economy and a free market one.
The future for the Romanian military seems interesting to say the least. Plans for new attack helicopters, additional 2 F-16 squadrons, hundreds of Piranha V APCs, new MBTs, IFVs, and even frigates are in the cards. But until they become reality, there is still a lot to dream about.
“But that’s all we can afford. We have as much security as we can pay for.”
– Vasile Dâncu, Minister of Defence, 2022
Artileria Romana in Date si imagini
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