T-55 is one of the most produced main battle tanks in the post-world war era and many countries oriented to soviet weapons had significant fleets of these machines within their rank. Still, as it is the mid-50’s tank it became rapidly obsolete and had virtually no chance in head to head encounter with the modern MBTs. Many countries simply abandoned them and bought or produced their own new tanks, but also many countries decided to modernize their existing tanks.
Romania was one of the countries producing the T-55 under licence as they were a member of the Warsaw Pact and they started modernizing and upgrading their tanks very early.
The first initiative to start the modernization was brought in the communist period. In 1978 the project of a radical upgrade of the T-55 was started and it took them 8 years to come with the TR-85 tank. It was improved on many levels, both in terms of firepower and in terms of protection. The basic armament remained in the 100 mm calibre but the new tank had a much better fire control and armour protection.
The first batch took part in the Romanian revolution and after the changes in the country leadership and fall of the communism the new modernisation has begun. In March 1994 the new project of modernization made its first steps and many experts were pretty disheartened with the prospect of the new tank. Simply, the base for it was so old and out-dated that they felt there will be little use of modernization. Still, in the 1999 the project was finished and the existing fleet of TR-85 started being refurbished and upgraded to TR-85 M1 version.
The new turret was the first obvious upgrade. The designers managed to make the turret that much resembles on the turrets of heavy western tanks, with the ammo storage in the back. The gun remained in the 100 mm calibre but the observation and fire control systems were upgraded. Also, a new sloped modular armour addition in the front of the turret introduced some really futuristic moments. The Romanian engineers employed the technique used by Israeli and German engineers on their Merkava Mk. IV and Leopard 2A5 tanks. Still, it seemed to be just the cosmetic improvement and that the tank is significantly under gunned compared to its western counterparts.
It did however maintain the low weight of the machine and with its 50 tons and wide tracks it is much more suited for all sorts of terrain conditions than the heavier tanks. All in all, this turned out to be a rather cheap and effective upgrade that extended the service life of the fleet. Romanian army upgraded 249 tanks to the TR-85 M1 standard and the upgrades are still carried out.
The nasty surprise
The previously said would make the end of the entire article if there wasn’t for a joint US Romanian military exercise in the first half of 2014. Namely, the five TR-85 M1s were taking part in head to head encounter with five M1A2 Abrams MBTs during the exercise and the results were simply shocking for everyone. The exercise ended with a complete victory of the Romanian side while the calculated losses were 5 destroyed M1A2 and one lightly damaged TR-85 M1. It turned out that the Romanians did a great job with this tank and with applying the right tactics they managed to take out by many the best MBTs in the world. This will surely give a boost to the entire project and the Romanians will keep their TR-85 M1s operational for a pretty long time.