As 2017 draws to a close, Romania is doubling down on its defense posture. Through a series of transformative policies and military acquisitions, Bucharest is trying to meet the Russian challenge in the Black Sea and implement the decisions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) 2016 Warsaw Summit.
First, the Romanian General Staff has become the Romanian Defense Staff (RRA, November 26). This change in name signals the increasing role joint planning and joint operations play in Romania’s defense posture. Since becoming a member of NATO in 2004, the General Staff already operated on a joint basis. However, a name change was considered required to better reflect the role played by this institution in defense planning.
Second, in 2018, two new commands will be added to the Romanian Defense Staff: a special operations command and a cyberwarfare command (Agerpres, October 2). This is a significant development and shows that the transformation of the General Staff into a Defense Staff is more than simply a change at the top of the organization’s letterhead. The creation of these new commands signals the growing importance of special operations and cyberwarfare in the overall defense of the country. Specifically, it reflects the notion that joint operations in the current security environment require the support of special operations forces and control of the cyber domain. In Romania’s case, these are commonsense developments, given the experience of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Ukraine, where these two defense assets have played an important part.
However, defense developments in Romania have not been limited to the higher echelons of command. On October 9, the Multinational Brigade South East, based in Craiova, reached initial operational capability, with the unit slated to become fully operational by the end of 2018 (Mediafax, October 9). Furthermore, the 81st Mechanized Brigade of the Romanian Army will join a similar unit from the Czech Republic under German leadership in the Framework Nations Concept (Nato.int, February 15). Both units will fall under the command of the 10th Armored Division of the German Army. Bucharest’s move to join Berlin’s Framework Nations Concept represents an attempt to encourage Germany to be more involved in the security and defense issues of NATO’s Eastern Flank.
Romania is following up the establishment of new commands or the operationalization of new military units with defense acquisitions designed to give teeth to these policy decisions. The Romanian units of the Multinational Brigade South East will be equipped with Piranha 5 wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC) that will be acquired starting in 2018 (Hotnews.ro, November 29). Two hundred and twenty-seven vehicles are to be acquired from General Dynamics Europe Land Systems, of which 190 will be produced under license in Romania. The contract is valued at around $1 billion (€895 million).
In parallel with this program, Romania will develop, in partnership with the German company Rheinmetall, a new wheeled APC that will equip the rest of the Romanian Land Forces’ mechanized infantry units, starting in 2020 (Romania Insider, November 13). However, the most important and expensive defense acquisition made by Romania in 2017 was seven Patriot air- and missile-defense systems worth $3.9 billion, which will equip the air-defense units of the Air Force and of the Land Forces in 2019 (Mapn.ro, November 29).
Judging from the latest developments and plans to spend and invest 2 percent of GDP for defense over the next decade, Romanian decision-makers want to transform the country into a defense hub for the southern tip of the North Atlantic Alliance’s Eastern Flank. For Bucharest, this is a sensible course of action, since a well-developed defense industry will support Romania’s process of modernizing its armed forces as well as generating income and jobs.
Romanian officials routinely highlight the fact that the recent surge of defense acquisitions is not a “shopping spree” but is aimed at developing the long-neglected local arms industry while increasing defense capabilities (Europa FM, October 31). The 2 percent of GDP allocated to defense expenditure is used as a mechanism to attract investors in Romania’s arms industry that will partner with Romanian companies and help them retool and gain a foothold in the global defense industry. Besides Rheinmetall and General Dynamics, the government is negotiating with Bell Helicopters, MBDA, Airbus and Group Naval for the production of helicopters, missiles and combat vessels. At the same time, Romania is looking beyond the defense industry heavyweights from Western European and the United States: possible cooperation is also being discussed with Poland and Turkey (Business Cover, November 1).
If Romania manages to develop a competitive and sustainable arms industry, it will join Poland and the Czech Republic as one of the top defense suppliers in Central and Eastern Europe. In this instance, the countries of the Eastern Flank will have access to readily available defense products and be capable of supporting their armed forces.
However, there are a number of unresolved issues that need to be addressed in the near and medium term to make the Romanian defense effort credible. At present, the modernization process is aimed at increasing the capabilities of light and medium units. Romanian Land Forces require self-propelled artillery and NATO-compatible towed artillery as well as modern tanks. Part of these gaps in equipment will be addressed by the acquisition of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in 2018 (Mediafax, September 6), but the rest will have to wait after 2020. Moreover, the Romanian Navy urgently requires new ships and new capabilities to better face the growing threat posed by Russia in the Black Sea. Yet, new ships will probably be commissioned only after 2020, as the acquisition process for multirole corvettes will begin in 2018 (Economica, November 30). The creation of a cyber command within the Defense Staff will have to be followed through with a cyber and electronic warfare strategy, as well as the acquisition of capable electronic warfare systems.
Overall, progress in building up Romania’s defenses in 2017 has been significant. Yet, the pace of modernization and transformation needs to pick up in the following years, as the Russian challenge continues to grow.