How to fix the Romanian Armed Forces / Forțele Armate Române

This is one more part of my de facto series of super arrogant smart-arse posts on how to improve armed forces relevant for NATO's defence in Europe.

Status quo critique

The Romanian armed forces are utter crap. Have a look at their ancient equipment, look at their tiny budget (corrected in purchasing power parity), look at their geography and keep in mind they're members of both NATO (since 29 March 2004) and EU (since 1 January 2007).

Their navy is entirely pointless. There wouldn't be any civilian maritime traffic in the Black Sea in wartime and an amphibious invasion scenario makes no sense, period. It's perfectly possible to substitute all maritime traffic with road and rail traffic for a couple months, and you don't need any civilian traffic if a war lasts but a few weeks.

Their mini air force is almost entirely pointless as well. Those worn-out 2nd hand F-16s are useful for air policing, and other than that they're mere decoys to be parked on airbases. The second dozen is surplus and may end up getting cannibalised.

Too many helicopters are in use, presumably bought in part to support the domestic license producer (assembly line).

Their army has the size of about one typical divisional slice, but its equipment is stuck in the 70's and 80's, with few older and newer exceptions. Their list of capabilities for alliance defence appears to be short:
  • object security against airborne assault and raids
  • road engineer works
  • reduction of pockets
  • combat in urban and woodland terrain (with questionable radio comm links, though)
  • deception efforts, especially provision of decoys
This is a devastating critique because the Romanian armed forces are a perfect example for when a country maintains the façade of having well-rounded armed forces (tank forces, infantry, arty, air defences, warships, helicopters, fast combat jets) without spending the money to keep them modern enough for anything but the least challenging tasks. The fact is that Romania CANNOT spend enough to afford well-rounded armed forces of anything but inefficient miniature size. Romania has a moderate public debt so far and any deficit spending to spend more on the military would be utter nonsense given their alliance situation.

My first idea for reform was to pick 1,000-3,000 selected most promising personnel and disband & scrap the rest of the military, starting over from a blank sheet of paper. There's no budget for starting over like that, though.

- - - - -
Suggestions for change

Three approaches came to my mind:

(1) Militia approach

Get rid of the navy (though some units may be transferred to a maritime policing agency).

Reduce the air force (some helicopters to civilian agencies for disaster relief, keep the 12 F-16s but fly them only for air policing (24/7 two fighters on 5 minute readiness) and whatever training is necessary to maintain flight safety for this mission (no need for new pilots - even 60 year old pilots could do air policing). The air component (no separate "air force" organisation at all) should also maintain several air bases (especially runways & kerosene supply) so they could immediately be used by allied expeditionary air power.

Turn the army into a militia, divided by three categories of battalion battle groups:
  • militia battalions for delaying missions in the Eastern Carpathian mountains
  • militia battalions for object security missions at major (Danube) bridges, at airports and airbases, at powerplants etc. and in cities (especially in Bucharest)
  • militia battalions for Jagdkampf / Raumverteidigung tactics at ~100 km depth in flatlands at the Ukrainian and Moldavian borders
Only the latter category would require major investments in modern anti-MBT munition and radios. Platoon leadership quality would be the most important thing in all of these missions, so selection, education, training and experience of platoon leadership should be at the centre of the entire militia's personnel system.

(2) Humble low budget military

Same as before regarding navy and air force, but the army would be different in this model:
It would focus on four relatively cheap brigades with a limited repertoire. They would focus on what the current army is moderately capable of already, mostly
  • reduction of pockets
  • combat in urban and woodland terrain
This requires some addition of modern anti-MBT munitions, modern radios, minimum quantity of modern night vision equipment for infantry (and security pickets of other units) and very little else. Interoperability would be of little concern; these brigades or their battalion battlegroups would be sent into an area to defend or clear it with little assistance by allied forces, and until further notice.

One regiment for the capital and a couple reserve security battalions would form the backup territorial forces.

This concept might be a lot more affordable if the army as a whole rested in large part on reservists. It would be best if the organisation was oriented towards wartime strength (strength 48 hrs after mobilisation), NOT peacetime "active forces" strength. Senior officers instinctively prefer the latter because that's what they get to play with and to show off during most of the time.

(3) Totally NATO-integrated army + air policing

Again the same for air force and navy.

This approach would follow the idea for low budget brigades integrated into better-funded allied corps as described in a previous article of mine. Budget reasons would prevent much modernisation of the equipment, so again anti-MBT munitions, modern radios and a minimum of modern night vision equipment for the infantry and security pickets should be at the centre of new equipment procurement.
The capabilities of these brigades would still be modest (the training budget would likely not suffice for much mobile warfare proficiency), and they would depend on allied forces (mostly corps support) for electronic warfare, military intelligence, air defence, counterartillery, long range fires, precision fires, air support including rotary aviation support et cetera.

Again, some reservist territorial security forces.

- - - - -

The Romanian armed forces are mostly a waste of what little budgets they get. The equipment quality, training and readiness are abysmal due to the budget constraints. The Romanian contribution to alliance security is negligible and little improvement in this regard is possible in the next 15 years or more due to the economic situation. Romania SHOULD NOT spend more on its military. Romania is secured thanks to its foreign policy already. Its biggest return for the favour of security assurances by its allies is that it increases the distance between them and any plausible threat.

NATO and EU might help Romania with military subsidies (not mere dumping of old 2nd rate equipment into the country, but actually transferring funds). This would be a much more cost-efficient contribution to alliance security than to spend on expensive American, French or British personnel, for example. It would not be a problematic parallel to the Roman Empires' problematic employment of mercenaries if it was still but a small share of their defence spending. There's little Romania can do in regard to military power without such extra funds except cutting wasteful nonsense.



  1. It is indeed quite weird seeing an air force that is so heavily tilted towards tactical transport. It also confuses me why they have so many Gepard AA vehicles. Their utility is rather limited and they aren't exactly cheap either.

    It would be quite interesting (for me personally at least) to hear your thoughts on how to fix the Baltic armies. A different/fresh perspective would be nice.

    1. The Gepard vehicles were actually for free, but the deals surrounding the transfer amounted to € 43 million, including € 15.4 million for upgrading/refurbishing the Gepards.
      The quantity of vehicles is actually not extraordinary if you consider that some may serve for driver training and some may actually be cannibalised for spares. The area protected by such a SPAAG is tiny anyway.

  2. So, you want the Romanian Army to have the same role as in WW2 ?

  3. Poor Romania, you didn't hold back.

    They have some lovely defensible country at least, shame they are not currently exploiting that more. I'm afraid there seems to be little rational thought going on in general.

    I know France needs doing but Sweden next? I know they're non-NATO, but I think it's fair to say that they contribute to European defence and deterrence quite a bit.

    1. I actually reworked certain sections before I published it...

  4. I am for.
    a. a more smaller defensive navy
    b. an elite mobile core
    c. a bigger air force
    d. paramilitary and militia forces supplied by the citizens themselves, gun owning legal, deposits, officers and training camps supplied by the state.

  5. I do agree with some solutions. Indeed the Navy is oversized imho; probably those 4 SigmaII corvettes which will be build in Romania along with a modern frigate De Zeven Provincien-class, also built at Galati (Damen shipyard) would be sufficient. Next thing to do is to refurbish that Kilo class until Damen would be able to delivers subs, I think 2 is the minimum number required. But the Type 22 frigates, old Marasesti or Tarantul are useless. Saved money could be used for a Marine Brigade for Danube Delta - Razelm lagoon area (curently just one battalion specialized in the said area and one recon batallion).

    However, there are few pretty good units and I am thinking here to Special Operations Brigade (with modern equipment), Mountain Rangers or Recon/Marine infantry battalions; MLRS brigade with LAR Mk.4 isn't outdated at all and have good surveillance and targeting capabilities albeit lack a modern arty radar.

    I also agree we need to re-instate militia units but other than that I think your vision is a bit too extreme. There are some nice programs going on now, one of the most important is with Rheinmetall and aim to replace wheeled platforms (APC, IFV, mortar, medevac, command):

    There is also a lot of untapped potential and if many of the programs will be carried out in the country (e.g. T-55 turned in Achazarit) there will also be economical benefits. Also, when looking to performance of modern weapons one cannot forget the Georgian conflict where state of art unmanned turret were tactically outclassed by simpler , old Soviet designs which proved more reliable.

    As for aviation, a country like Romania cannot afford to pay costs for training pilots outside the country hence a desired force of 48 F-16 wouldn't be oversized and perfectly sustainable. I do think it was wise to take just 12 for now and getting used with operating them as is a big difference compared with MIGs but I don't think things are so catastrophic. Look around Romania, Bulgarians, Hungarians or Serbs barely fly military jets.

    1. "is the minimum number required"

      For what?

      "force of 48 F-16 wouldn't be oversized and perfectly sustainable"

      ...and good for what other than air policing and threat simulation in exercises, which can be done with 12 planes?
      F-16A Block 15 series planes are ancient, terribly worn out and aren't capable of much when facing Russian air force and air defences. They lack a good radar, Romania has a mere 30 AIM-120 and they use pre-AIM-9X versions. No helmet sight. No IRST. No capable jammer, much less a towed decoy. Few ground attack munitions. No standoff missiles AFAIK.

      They're great planes for conversion into target drones, and decent air policing vehicles.

      Your attitude is what I'm writing against; there's no need for a well-rounded military, since a well-rounded military isn't necessarily an efficient or even only an effective choice.

    2. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. The logistical/technical demands of operating a F-16 are very different compared with MIGs. It is just a first batch to accustom the personnel with it, why buy a Mercedes to somebody who just finished driving school? It is true that we operated Lancer which at their time have very advanced avionics and some of their equipment is still useful but F-16 is a different league. You are quoting those missiles like it is a final buy and not just a start for future buys. There are rumors about F-16 C/D or even V.

      Norway, Denmark, Netherlands conducted even combat missions recently with this version.

      This plane could use AIM 120 AMMRAM C, JDAM, JSOW , Rafael Litening II pod, Lockheed Martin – Sniper and engines are new.

      The radar is APG-66(V)2 – upgrade of base radar deloped for the F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 15 Mid Life Update program. New signal processor, higher output power, improved reliability. Range in clutter/jamming environment increased to 83 km.

      Sniper pod could be used in air-air mode and could detect at 100 km.

      This version could support a lot of upgrades, even at V standard (see Taiwan). I do reckon the radar is the main issue here but some of your statement is questionable since only F-16 E/F have IRST . As for worn out, it was a reason for which they were bought from Portugal and not those offered by Israel or other countries who flew them recently in combat missions and were severly worn out indeed.

      Compared with countries around Romania, this is a decent plane to start building up an air force with a very different set up that what we were used to be. Hungary, although acquired new planes (Gripens), barely fly them and you must agree that the training of the pilot is as important as the plane, at least.

      I think you analysis focus too much on rough numbers and forget that neither Bulgaria or Hungary can do air policing around here and it is after all a requirement of membership to NATO. What it would be most important with these plane is to assure necessary number of flight hours and a start point to add more capable aircrafts. You don't build an air force by buying straight away 60 planes but in time.

      You are advocating for extreme weapons reduction because it is not effective but you fail to take into consideration in this particular case of aircrafts that even flying from Crimeea most of the Russian aircrafts are close to the limit of their combat range. Most of them cannot be air refueled and if you are thinking to hundreds thrown against Romania at once you are seriously over estimate the capacity of Russian aviation to keep its planes operational.

      You are advocating for a serious reduction and militia like units, also for integrated units but you do not consider that I agreed with some of your statements, especially regarding Navy and even there could be a discussions considering the reserves of hydrocarbs from Black Sea.

      I also do think Romania shouldn't spend on certain capabilities (e.g. AWACS, ECR planes) but what you propose is extreme and doesn't take into consideration scenarios where it's easy to get Romania isolated from NATO main core.

      Night vision equipment is produced locally and is spread to different units. Specialized units for delaying activities in Carpathian Mountains are like 3 brigades and 1 battalion. Units for guarding objective in Dobrudja are also plenty, also a specialized battalion to act in lagoon zone (see south of Moldova) and I mentioned the need for a brigade. Also at least two brigades can carry out combat missions at 100 km depth in flatlands at the Ukrainian and Moldavian borders. So what you describe in your first approach it is there already and something more.

    3. Even F-16 Block 60 wouldn't be of much use. The ancient A series with their anaemic APG-66 are merely decoys, even with AIM-120. They cannot do ground attack in face of modern air defences. They cannot do naval attack. They are among the weakest of NATO's fighters in air combat. 12 or 48 makes a huge budget difference, but it's a marginal military difference.
      Bombing defenceless daesh is irrelevant regarding the usefulness of an aircraft for NATO defence. WW2 B-17s could be used to bomb daesh.

      "I do reckon the radar is the main issue here but some of your statement is questionable since only F-16 E/F have IRST"

      It's a logical fallacy to match up one's forces with allied forces. The relevant benchmark are potential hostile forces. ALL MiG-29 and Su-27 series planes have some IRST.

      The existing army units are nothing like the militia that I proposed. That's a huge doctrinal difference. What I think of as militias would have much less punch against weak hostiles, but resist much bigger blows by powerful hostiles. The current Romanian land forces are so very obsolete that hours of combat with a powerful hostile force would shatter them completely.

      "You are advocating for a serious reduction"

      I'm advocating switching to field brigades that have the quality to stand up to the only potential aggressor's field brigades and to militia forces that are the most cost-efficient means to counter airborne forces.
      A large army is of no use if it's made of porcelain.

      "I think you analysis focus too much on rough numbers and forget that neither Bulgaria or Hungary can do air policing around here and it is after all a requirement of membership to NATO"

      Please provide evidence for this claim. I do not remember having seen any such thing in the accession treaties, and everything else can at most be a fantasy requirement, not a real one.

    4. Well with the 2% of GDP in 2018 and a higher procent of it spent on buying / producing equipment, taking also into consideration a 3 - 5 % yearly GDP increase the army will have a decent budget for a country of this rang. I also agree with a comment here that you need the F-16 to bring the pilots into the 21 century before even thinking of something like F35. The army is aquiring a lot of newer equipment nowadays like the Patriot, HIMARS, military transport vehicles in the thousands, probably some new combat vessels , AT weaponry and so on.
      To be clear: Its FAR from being a capable force, but you have to start from somewhere and use whatever ressources you have.
      Another important point in my opinion: No one in Eastern Europe (or even western Europe for that matter) can face a full on russian invasion, but that is not what we are talking about here. The army should be capable to defend / detter against a medium sized attack such as what is happening in Ukraine.
      I think the only "doctrine" that could make a little difference in this situation should be formed around following concepts:
      1. Use terrain and cheaper AT weaponry to negate a possible mechanized attack
      2. Use highly mobile infantry supported with decent mechanized units to be able to defend against a possible land attack
      3. Try by all means to have a decent air defense as without this all is basically futile. This should not be done so much through aircraft as through modern air defense systems helped by 50 - 100 planes and NATO aircraft.
      4. Coastal defense as this is probably where an attack can come from.

      I see the army taking steps in this direction, which is good I think. As nothing was done for the army for 20 years, this is a step forward.

      Also important: The romanian army will never be able to fight a war alone, the only course of action is to have enough national "power" to be able to internally offer opposition until NATO forces arrive.

      We have to think about defence in Europe as an integrated system. None of us in Europe can defend anything alone at this point...

  6. ”No helmet sight”- you don't know a bit about Romania!
    Mig 21 Lancer have The Integrated Sight Helmet ( HelmetUp Display!

    1. Lucky me, I was writing about F-16, not MiG-21. I found no source claiming that DASH is integrated into the Romanian F-16s.

    2. If they put these on Mig-21s what stop them to put on F16?!
      They updated Migs on Romania!
      Your sources are wiki! :))

    3. It's not so much about stopping. Romania did not upgrade the MiG-21s alone, the integration development was mostly Elbit's work share (Israel).

      A transfer of DASH to the ~30 years-old F-16s that have most likely much less than 1,000 flying hours each left would be quite wasteful considering the expenses. I didn't find any sources claiming such a transfer either, nor did I notice any photos of Romanian F-16 pilots with DASH.

      My range of sources actually doesn't matter. What matters is the info. Do you have info that Romanian F-16s use DASH? If so, bring that source forward and you'll have falsified a tiny remark of mine made in the comments (not the original blog post).

  7. Your suggestions are rubbish! You don't know nothing about Romania and what are NATO priorities there!
    ”Get rid of the navy”!!!!!
    Romania have important maritime oil and gas resources at Black Sea!
    By Montreux Convention only Black Sea countries may have warships there, other countries warships are restricted!(No more than nine non-Black Sea state warships, with a total aggregate tonnage of no more than 30,000 tons, may pass at any one time, and they are permitted to stay in the Black Sea for no longer than twenty-one days. Black Sea states may transit capital ships of any tonnage, escorted by no more than two destroyers.)

    1. NATO's intentions and conclusions are not imperative to me, as I can and do think on my own.
      Romania has two dozen Black Sea oil fields producing or under development, and an even more natural gas fields in the Black Sea. It would take a navy of the size of the USN to protect these against air attack or an air force of the size of the USN's F-18 and E-2 fleet to do the same.

      You're lacking a logical chain of reasoning here. Your reasoning looks like

      offshore oil field -> ??? -> need navy!

      I had a look at the "???" and as it turns out, the correct conclusion is "don't waste money on a navy".

    2. nobody think a ... bit about your conclusions! too
      How could you speak (write) about ”logical chain” when you don't bother to learn first something and you came with some pompous verdicts!

    3. Simple. I read, understood, noticed, remarked.
      Also, use of keyboard. Are any more details about how I write required?

    4. In this article you will find a picture of a JHMCS on a Romanian F-16:


    5. Yes, looks like Romanian F-16 and DASH combined after all.

    6. Romanians just don't seem to understand. They are too proud of their old equipement. They are still trying to argue due to the fact that Romanian roles are not as good as they are telling in their media. Calm down pals and turn back to your day to day life.

  8. *sniff sniff*... Can anyone else smell that butt hurt? Give Sven a break, he's got good points and you're just barking at him. (plz do Finland or atleast Sweden)

    1. If you think this is butthurt you haven't seen the romanian blogosphere. ;)

    2. I did read some of it through google translate and it seems I was misunderstood there. I didn't advocate to get rid of the few good stuff only because I mentioned that the brigades would be dependent on higher levels for support.

      There was a good deal of daydreaming in the Romanian comments, such as squadrons of F-35s. They seemingly never laid out how exactly their preferred concept of Romanian forces could make a difference in deterrence or defence. Instead, they dreamt of a respectable, well-rounded prestigious force. The typical feelings-emphasizing approach to military affairs.

  9. As a side note to the countless times you have emphasized the need for HETs; Finland purchased 10 used Scanias and HETs from Netherlands for 2,2 M€. Not bad at all I say.

  10. So far, the shopping list for Romania is:

    7 Patriot batteries (some paid already) which will integrate the Hawks XXI as well
    1 Himars brigade (54 pieces) - payments started
    4 corvettes locally built (by Damen of Ficanteri)
    200+ Piranha V assembled locally and probably 400 more Piranha V or a local version of Boxer.
    coastal anti-ship missiles -NSM or Harpoon

    and in future years are announced further acquisitions:

    3 subs
    more F-16 to reach 54 in numbers
    VSHORAD/SHORAD assembly plant probably with MBDA (Mica + Mistral)
    43 new Bell helos (24 Viper and 21 Venom) for army , probably for SO brigade; will be assembled locally at Brasov
    various other small deals such as upgrade of BMPs, mortars etc, upgrade of the two frigates, infantry equipment

    1. That would probably happen after 50 years from now. Romanian has this "army " due to the alliance to the NATO. In other way, the corrupted state wouldn't bother to increase the army budget. They ve got some serious problems with the coalitions who are pro communistic.

    2. Romania is one of the few countries who allocated 2% of GDP for defense, according with the alliance standards. Why don't you first document yourself and than post an opinion? You'd avoid this way to post such nonsense.

    3. Not quite 2% GDP, but I don't see why you resorted to that largely useless metric at all.