Though well into the second half of 2019, the Romanian government has still not signed any major arms procurement deals this year. If this situation persists, Romania risks failing to meet the minimum 2 percent of GDP defense spending goal set by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A leadership reshuffle at the top of the Armaments Department of the Ministry of Defense several months ago was meant to speed the procurement process up (Realitatea.net, June 8); but key acquisition programs continue to lag behind or face litigation. Only a €60 million ($66 million) contract has been signed in February 2019, for the acquisition of new Spike ER anti-tank missiles for Puma SOCAT gunship helicopters (Hotnews.ro, April 29). Romania’s two major naval programs—new corvettes and coastal defense systems—are still facing major delays.
The Romanian parliament has approved the acquisition of five additional F-16 AM/BM multi-role fighters from Portugal (Romania.europalibera.org, July 3), and the government in Lisbon has given the go-ahead for the transaction (Adevărul, August 23). The five aircraft cost € 130 million ($143 million) and will complete the existing squadron, which is now certified to undertake air policing duties under NATO command. The need to complete Romania’s existing squadron instead of procuring a second one lays bare the serious deficiencies in the country’s acquisition planning. However, on the positive side, according to General Nicolae Ciucă, the chief of the Defense Staff, Romania has taken delivery of the first elements of the Patriot air- and missile-defense system ordered in 2017 (Hotnews.ro, July 20).
Delays and legal issues affect some of the most promising and needed acquisition programs run by the Ministry of Defense. Technical issues related to the communication system installed on board have prevented the Ministry of Defense to take delivery of the first batch of Piranha V wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC) from United States manufacturer General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) (StiriTVR.ro, June 19). This program is important both in military and industrial terms because Romania wants to eventually produce this vehicle locally. Twenty-eight APCs, out of an initial order of 36, have already been manufactured. The vehicles are set to equip the Romanian component of the NATO Multinational Brigade South East. Defense Minister Gabriel Leș has stated that he will impose penalties on GDELS for not delivering the vehicles on time (Mediafax, March 22).
A tender for the acquisition of around 3,000 trucks (out of a requirement of 12,000) has to be relaunched after Rheinmettal successfully contested the acquisition process in court (Adevărul, January 14). The German firm has claimed that the procurement was tilted in favor of its Italian competitor, Iveco (G4Media.ro, January 14). This acquisition is critical because it represents the first step in replacing the aging military trucks of the Romanian Armed Forces, and it will have a positive impact on the local auto industry by reviving both military and civilian truck production.
Plans to procure a second type of wheeled armored personnel carrier with amphibious capabilities have been put off. Originally, it was envisioned that a local design, the Agilis APC, should fulfill this role and be produced in cooperation with Rheinmetall. Instead, there are ongoing negotiations between representatives of the Romanian defense industry with GDELS to manufacture an amphibious version of the Piranha IV at the Automecanica Moreni facility (Bursa.ro, May 16). Furthermore, it has been disclosed that Romania is interested in urgently acquiring 173 Puma Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) (Hotnews.ro, April 15). Talks are underway with Rheinmetall for the acquisition of the vehicles and potential integration with the Romanian defense industry. Plans are also under development to lease a battalion of Leopard II tanks from the European Defense Agency, but the program is advancing very slowly (Ziare.com, July 12).
Romania’s Naval Forces have been the most affected by the delays and litigations concerning acquisition programs. On July 3, after a protracted and controversial acquisition process, the Ministry of Defense announced that a consortium between the French shipbuilder Naval Group and the Romanian yard Șantierul Naval Constanța (SNC) was selected to locally build four Gowind 2500 multi-role corvettes (Digi24.ro, July 3). The domestic Damen Shipyards Galați,which offered the Sigma-class corvette for the tender, has challenged the Romanian MoD’sdecision in court as well as with the acquisition watchdog (StiriTVR.ro, July 10). Judicial and administrative reviews of the acquisition process are now proceeding.
Plans to acquire new coastal defense systems have also been delayed. Despite the program being launched in 2018, no contract has been signed yet. Four companies had initially expressed interest in competing for the contracts: Boeing, MBDA, Kongsberg and Saab, but only Kongsberg and MBDA actually put up offers. Kongsberg’s offer was disqualified, allegedly over the small warhead of its NSM anti-ship missile (Rumaniamilitary.ro, June 20). Only MBDA’s bid, based around a ground-launched version of its MM 40 Exocet Block 3 anti-ship missile, has remained in the competition; but negotiations appear to have hit a road block (Newsweek Romania, July 8) and no agreement has been reached yet.
If some programs suffer from major delays or litigation, others seem to have been placed on the back burner. Nothing has been heard about the procurement of short-range and very-short-range air-defense systems (SHORAD/VSHORD), a program worth €2.1 billion (over $2.3 billion). The acquisition of new attack and transport helicopters also seems to have stalled. The Czech Republic (Czechia) recently acquired eight Bell UH-1Y Venom and four AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter from the United States (Defenseromania.ro, August 22). In the meantime, Romania has deployed to Mali a detachment of four Puma helicopters and has repeatedly expressed interest in the production and acquisition of new military helicopters (RRA, August 19). The Czech example and the lessons drawn from the Mali deployment will probably influence and accelerate any procurement decision.
The Romanian government is under pressure to resolve the issues that affect the current defense procurement programs, while launching new ones. Failure to pursue such a course of affection will undermine Bucharest’s credibility as a NATO ally and as a security supplier in the Black Sea region and the Western Balkans.