TR-85M1 is a T-55 tank upgrade package with a modern fire control system, complemented with synthetic armor made by Romania.
Like many countries in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, Romania received major military aid from the Soviet Union. These include weapons-making technologies, which later helped them produce the most powerful T-55 variant in history. The most modernized variant of the T-55 in Eastern Europe developed by Romania is called TR-85, based on the design of TR-77-580 – which is another upgraded version of the Soviet T-55 tank.
Developed by Romania during the period from 1978 until 1985, the main battle tank TR-85 was started in mass production from 1986 until the Soviet Union disintegrated. A modernization program was initiated in March 1994 in order to upgrade the TR-85 tanks to NATO standards. The result was the TR-85M1 main battle tank, currently the most modern tank in service with the Romanian Land Forces.
As a drastically modified version of the T-55, the TR-85 main battle tank has been researched and developed by Romanian engineers with a new turret, a new power pack that includes a German diesel engine, and a completely redesigned locally developed suspension. The TR-85 has 6 road wheels, while the T-55 have only five and lack the skirt that is the prominent identificaiton feature for the TR-85.
The birth of the TR-85 tank line was marked by the country’s new military doctrine introduced in the early 1970s. Accordingly, Romania wants the country to actively produce defense equipment for the Army instead of relying on imports from the Soviet Union.
Once completed, the TR-85 has a total weight of up to 42 tons and the TR-85M1 weighs 50 tons, while the original T-55 has only 36.6 tons. The vehicle has a length of 9.96 meters and a width of 3.4 meters and a height to turret top of 3.1m. Like the T-54/55, the TR-85 do not have an automatic reload system and it needs a crew of up to 4 people. The TR-85M1 tank also has NBC protection and an improved, rapid fire suppression system using non-toxic agents.
The TR-85 turret looks a bit different from a T-55, the chin of the TR-85 hull armor has some support elements for armor skirts which have some ridged patterns.
The TR-85M1 is not just a modified T-55, but rather is a basically redesigned T-55, with a different hull and modified turret, and more armor than the usual T-55. The armour of the TR-85M1 tank has a maximum thickness of 200 mm for the hull and 320 mm add-on armour on the turret.
The turret is the same dome-shaped with T-55 turret, a bustle and “bra armour” around the turret. The add-on armour on the front of the turret has a modular appearance with a triangular profile. Although it might look like bricks of explosive reactive armour, the add-on composite armour is designed this way for easy replacement after combat damage.
The TR-85 chassis is similar to the T-55, but each side has six road wheels, the idler at the front and drive sprocket is at the rear. The driver sits to the front left. To the driver’s immediate front are ribs running across the glacis plate and a low-profile splashboard going two-thirds of the way across the glacis plate. On the right side of the glacis plate are two headlamps and low down are several spare track links.
The original TR-85 was powered by the 830 horsepower 8VS-A2T2, 4 stroke, 8-cylinder, liquid-cooled, turbo charged direct injection diesel engine, and a six speed THM-5800 hydromechanic transmission, giving it a governed top speed of 50 km/h on paved roads.
The TR-85M1 has an improved version of the original engine. The new 8VS-A2T2M provides 860 horsepower and has a top road speed of 60 km/h.
The tank has a maximum road range of about 400 km and can be fitted with two optional 200-liter drum-type fuel tanks at the rear of the vehicle for an increased operational range. Like the T-54/55 series, the TR-85 has an unditching beam and a snorkel mounted at the rear of the hull to allow river crossings.
The turret is fitted with two six-barreled 81mm smoke grenade launchers and two four-barreled flare launchers. The system can create a thick smoke that blocks both vision and thermal imaging. The tank is also equipped with a smoke screen generator that is triggered by the driver. When activated, diesel fuel is injected into the hot exhaust, creating the thick smoke. The TR-85M1 is equipped with laser illumination warning sensors that can automatically trigger the GFM-76 smoke grenades and flares, thus disrupting the guidance systems of thermal and infrared guided missiles.
The TR-85 is similar to the Russian T-55 with the 100 mm main armament being fitted with a fume extractor near the muzzle and a thermal sleeve. A laser range-finder is mounted above the mantle, it feeds data to the fire-control computer. The tank has a rate of fire of about 4 to 7 rounds per minute and can carry up to 41 projectiles inside the hull. The modernized version has a number of improvements to increase the reliability of the gun. The gun can fire APFSDS-T, shaped charge, high explosive, armour piercing with tracer and target practice rounds.
Secondary armament is one 12.7 mm heavy machine gun in a pintle mount on the loader’s hatch ring, which can be used as a light antiaircraft weapon. To fire and reload the weapon manually, the gunner has to partially expose himself to suppressive fire. Boxes of 12.7 mm ammunition are mounted externally on the turret sides and to the rear.
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There is also a 7.62mm PKM machine gun in a coaxial mount to the right of the main gun. The coaxial machine gun is aimed and fired with the same computer fire control system used for the main gun.
Around 600 TR-85 tanks were produced in all, with about half being withdrawn from service in the late 1990s and some 315 remaining in service by the year 2000. TR-85 tanks were used operationally in security roles during the 1989 Romanian Revolution as part of the demonstrations taking place across several Warsaw Pact entities prior to the official fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991. The TR-85 was in service also in Egypt and Iraq, it was also tested in combat during the Iraq-Iran war.
The 100mm main gun is thought by some to be far too weak against current generation main battle tanks. Critics argue that the general modernisation is not very good. The turret is said to be badly designed and the space inside the turret is not enough for the crew.
Some sources report that the a new TR-85M3 is under development. It should be fitted with a more powerful engine. This tank will also have new 120 mm or 125 mm gun, as well as improved armor and updated electronic systems.