29 October 2020

Does Romania still need tanks?

Sorin Butiri

Three recent events that took place nearby Romania – the strategic command-and-staff drill “Kavkaz” 2020, held by Russia, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the tank men biathlon held in the Alabino polygon, close to Moscow, should reopen the discussion on the Romanian Armed Forces’ need of modern tanks. The tanks procurement is not mentioned among the procurement programs included in the 2020 White Piper on Defense.

Image source: MApN

Learned lessons?

As I was stating in a previous article, the “Kavkaz 2020” drill, developed by Russia this year, is confirming this country’s will to develop large-scale and quick operations, with tank units and mechanized infantry supported by aviation and airborne troops, as well as the large-scale use of artillery and missiles (a key element of the offensive) and the missile defence systems. From this point of view, we can state that Russia is still focused, from a doctrinaire perspective, on interstate conflicts on a regional scale with a mostly conventional component and high intensity. Long story short: conventional, mobility, strike power.

Moving forward, we will try to analyze the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a „traditional” one, militarily speaking. The Armenians have announced, in early October, that they have lost 42 T-72 tanks.

Unlike the armored vehicles lost in the Middle East conflicts that I talked about in a different article, the videos made publicly by Azerbaijan prove that neither the armored vehicles nor troops’ training level were the main causes of the above mentioned loses. Actually, the recorded loses by the Armenians prove how the sensors on the modern battlefield are changing the balance in nowadays conflicts.

Although the analyzed videos come from the Azerbaijanis and have propagandistic purposes, after carefully taking a deeper look at them we can identify some mistakes and new tactics, as well as the increased importance of the sensors in the current military conflicts:

1. the execution of some maneuvers without camouflaging them. Ignoring this important aspect led to the “exposure” of the Armenian tanks and their loss after the Azerbaijanis attacked them.

2. the permanent update of the tactical situation. And this can only be made currently with radars which identify and track the enemy and its forces, so that each military and subunit to know for sure where they stand, what dangers should be avoided and how can they act coordinately to accomplish their mission. Currently, such radars provide the familiarity with the tactical situation up to 150 km.

3. decreasing the electronic footprint. For an enemy that has technical capabilities, the electronic footprint of the radio stations and of other communication methods are extremely important for mapping the enemy’s moves and its intensions.

4. “hiding” tanks becomes more and more difficult nowadays. The increasing number of infrared or thermal imaging makes tanks’ camouflage to be difficult – during the night and the day – and even the vehicles which are under thermal screens can often be identified by the personnel who come out of this protection for different activities nearby. Furthermore, the increasing use of the UAVs, not only on the strategic and operative levels, but also on a tactical one, is creating difficulties in hiding not only the tanks, but all vehicles. Even trying to hide the armored vehicles in forested areas can fail, as the air research can identify the traces left when entering the forested zone.

Held at the beginning of September, the tank biathlon, developed in the Alabino polygon, should make the Romanian tank men… and not only, think. We do not want to talk about the mobility and speed of the Russian team, nor about the high precision of the Chinese teams, but about the training level of the participating teams. Obviously, each country chose the best team to win the competition, but any competition, be it a organized on biathlon, brigade of armed forces level offers the opportunity to improve the teams when it comes to quick actions and the high-precision attacks.

Tendencies on tank procurement

Although there is already a tendency to replace the tanks with armored vehicles of the infantry, able to protect the teams, to both identify the enemy and attack it from large distances and to quickly be transported through air, most of the states still have modernization or replacement programs of the tanks.

As I was previously stating, Russia tested the T-14 tanks “Army” in Syria. Although initially they wanted to procure 2.300 T-14’s, between 2015 and 2020, the financial problems have extended the deadline until 2025. Also, Russia wants to modernize 350 T-90A tanks and get them to the T-90M version.

Germany started the testing phase of the Leopard modernized 2A7V tanks and is improving the Leopard 2A6 to the A6M version. Also, Great Britain is developing a new concept for the Challenger 2 tank, optimized for the urban environment and, at the same time, is developing a program to extend the exploitation period of the current tank fleet.

In the meantime, France and Germany initiated the “Main Ground Combat System” project, which will develop an European tank and which, they hope, will replace, until 2025, the Leclerc and Leopard 2 tanks.  

Finland took from the Netherlands 100 Leopard 2A6 tanks and Poland is modernizing its 142 Leopard 2A4s fleet to the 2PL standard, concurrently with modernizing 300 T-72M tanks. The Czech Republic is modernizing 33 T-72M4CZ tanks and buys 44 Leopards 2A7 tanks. Cyprus, Greece and Spain want to modernize the (2E and 2EH) tanks they have.

Romania plans to replace the TR-85 with Leopard 2A7+ tanks. The Defence Ministry says it has the money to modernize the tanks’ fleet, but a decision on the model to be procured was not made so far. The same source states that “it is still premature to talk about the project developed by the European Defence Fund in terms of optimizing the Leopard 2 tank’s capabilities for Romania’s Armed Forces”.


The statement according to which tanks’ days are to be over is a huge mistake. Also wrong is saying that the tanks’ units will be replaced by “heavy infantry units”. As it comes out from the videos presenting some actions developed in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict it is obvious that the unarmored vehicles, the infantry that acts on the ground, with no support from the armored vehicles, but also the tanks units which act with no support from the infantry are simply planning mistakes of the military actions.

All armored vehicles have their vulnerabilities, and we are not referring only to tanks, but also armored vehicles from the infantry and the support subunits. But the current conflicts and the ones to come are not only about conquering and controlling the field. The current conflicts are involving high mobility, strike power and teams’ projection (human resources). The camouflage should offer the human resource’s protection (with acceptable loses) during the military actions aiming at conquering an objective. Creating tactical groups able to quickly execute maneuvers and attack the enemy from distance until being attacked back are, still, the keys to success. In all these cases, the “partnership” between tanks and the infantry units on modern fight vehicles is one of the successful elements of such an action.

Therefore, we can state that, considering the developments in the field, taking place in the entire world, but especially within NATO and EU and the geopolitical context in the Black Sea region, Romania needs those tanks. However, the procurement programs included in the 2020 White Paper on Defense do not talk about tanks. Thus, we can only assume that the identification process developed by the MoND of a tank model to be procured by Romania is still developing.

Translated by Andreea Soare