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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Romania’s Tank Force: Ready for M1 Abrams Tanks?

M1 Abrams. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
The Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect.

After having recently written multiple 19FortyFive articles on the military capabilities of one of the easternmost NATO member states, namely Poland – covering that country’s Land Forces and Air Force and Navy alike – it’s only logical that we now cover the capabilities of another easternmost NATO member and fellow former Warsaw Pact member, namely Romania. I got the inspiration to do this writeup on the Romanian Army’s capabilities after my esteemed 19FortyFive colleague Sébastien Roblin wrote an article for Popular Mechanics earlier this week titled “The Turbulent Reason Why Romania Is Buying Abrams Tanks From America.”

Romania is Still Using T-55 Tanks

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the Romanian Land Forces (Forțele Terestre Române) are still stuck with so many early Cold War era T-55 main battle tanks (MBTs) left over from the country’s dark days of Communism, when you consider that their Air Force still has the 1959 vintage MiG-21 Fishbed jet fighter in its fleet (thus putting the Romanian Air Force in the dubious company of still-communist countries that also use the Fishbed, namely Cuba and North Korea)!  

According to Roblin’s aforementioned article, “Romania technically has more operational tanks than France, Germany, or the United Kingdom, with 377 in service according to the 2023 edition of The Military Balance. But that fleet is also amongst the most outdated in the alliance for a country of its size, based on the Soviet T-54/T-55 tank, which entered service in 1954.” (author’s original emphasis). Later in the piece, Sébastien adds: 

“Active inventory includes 220 T-55AMs, an upgraded model with reinforced BDD-type laminated ‘brow’ armor, laser range-finders, smoke grenade launchers, stabilized guns and sights, and gun-launched missile capability thanks to new fire control systems. It also counts 103 indigenous TR-85 tanks based on the T-55, and 54 heavily enhanced TR-85M1s…But while the TR-85M1 and T-55AMs do benefit from respectable armor and fire control enhancements, they retain 100-millimeter guns that are underpowered by modern standards. Romania did co-develop with Israel an unusually high-performing 100-millimeter tungsten fin-stabilized discarding-sabot (APFSDS) shell called the BM-421 Sg (or M309) that achieves 425 millimeters of penetration at 1 kilometer. That still falls short given a typical T-72B has frontal hull and turret armor equivalent to 480-540 millimeters RHA versus kinetic shells.”

And Lord knows how even that significantly more modern T-72 has been faltering in recent combat

Bring in Those M1 Abrams Post-Haste. Please…

Enter the good ol’ American-made M1 Abrams MBT, which has been kicking butt and taking names against Soviet-designed tanks ever since the 1991 Persian Gulf War AKA Operation Desert Storm. As part of Bucharest’s plan to increase defense spending to a 2.5% share of GDP – thus actually exceeding NATO’s often flouted 2% requirement that Donald Trump had harped upon so heavily back when “The Donald” was still POTUS – Romanian military procurement chief General-locotenent (Lt. Gen.) Teodor Incicas stated his country’s intentions of purchasing a “battalion” of Abrams MBTs from the U.S; to give our readers a sense of numerical perspective, a standard Romanian battalion has 54 tanks. 

In all likelihood, the Forțele Terestre Române will eventually receive the latest M1A2 variant, reconstructed from the hulls of retired older-model Abrams tanks, but fitted with tungsten armor instead of the depleted uranium on U.S. vehicles.  

The decision on America’s part to send M1s to Romania makes plenty of logical sense in light of the facts that: (1) we’re sending that same tank type to Ukraine – which is not yet a NATO ally – although in Kyiv’s case, it’ll be the older M1A1 variant; and (2) Romania, along with Poland – which is also purchasing Abrams tanks as part of its own belated post-Cold War military modernization program – would be amongst the first NATO nations’ forces to attempt to blunt a Russian offensive if Vladimir Putin were to (heaven forbid) ever hypothetically initiate WWIII via means of his conventional forces rather than going straight to the nuclear option.

Where to From Here?

Regarding those Abrams tanks heading to Ukraine and Poland – quantities of 31 and 366 respectively – well, there’s the rub; those specimens, along with the 108 being sent to Taiwan, are ahead in line of the Romania-bound M1s. Therefore, it’ll be a few years before the Romanian tankers can start enjoying the benefits of the American-made MBTs. Nonetheless, the M1 Abrams comprises a significant part & parcel of the Ukrainian military modernization program, along with HIMARS rocketsF-16 Fighting Falcon (“Viper”) jet fighters, and Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries.      

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.

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Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).