All photos by Mugur Vărzariu
Black Sea Defense is a biannual arms fair taking place in Bucharest. Over the span of three days, Romania's army (that includes the navy, the air force, and the secret service), the police, the fire department, and some private contractors get a chance to show off the fact that the local weapons industry has been one of the few profitable ones during the financial crisis. For instance, in 2010 arms deals added 38 million euros to the national budget, an amount Romania simply can't afford to lose.
I tend to be dubious about such events, mostly because I don't harbor any particularly patriotic dreams of dying for my country. However, the recent events in Ukraine have got me—and many other young Romanians—worried enough to appreciate the indispensability of a competent territorial army. To make up my mind, I visited the convention.
When I got there, everyone was preparing for the arrival of the minister of defense, Mircea Dușa. People in army uniforms and expensive suits were dusting their booths, just like a soldier cleans his bed for morning inspection. I spoke with Aurel Cazacu (the man on the right in the photo below), general manager at Criabo Defense & Security, who told me all about a gun called Gepard GM6 Lynx.
The Romanian minister of defense, Mircea Dușa, is admiring a Gepard GM6 Lynx.
VICE: What can you tell me about this machine gun?
Aurel Cazacu: It's of Hungarian design. We transferred the technology to Romania, and we are building it at a factory in Cugir. It can fire both the NATO-issued 0.5-inch bullets and the Russian ones. It weighs just 23 pounds, which makes shooting with it easy, whether you're standing or sitting.
Can anyone use it, or is it just the special forces?
The special forces, the military, anyone! Even hunters, because, in places like the US, the 0.5 can also be used by civilians.
Does the Romanian army use it already?
We'll finish registering it this month. It's the first new weapon to be made in Romania in 40 years. The Cugir factory is 212 years old and has 800 employees today, but during the Soviet times there were 24,000. Romania was the fifth-ranked weapons manufacturer in the world before the Revolution. That's why I want to show people we can still do new things here.
So what's the future of the Romanian weapons industry?
We want to get involved in personalized weapons systems and smart weapons. The first are guns that only fire if they recognize you as their owner, by fingerprint or iris verification. The smart ones are guns that can be de-activated from a distance. When the police come to pick you up, they can deactivate your gun from a distance before busting you, like they do with mobile phones.
Most of the government services had brought out their most beautiful soldiers, pilots, and spies. They sat around being gawked at by yound cadets, like runway models at auto shows.
VICE: Hi, what can you tell me about this plane?
Sub-lieutenant and pilot Diaconu Diana: Spartan C-27J is the newest plane in the Romanian air force, and it can be used for everything from medical evacuations to troop transport. It can hold 60 people, but it can adapt according to its mission, in case it needs to hold paratroopers or stretchers.
How many of these babies does the air force have?
There are six, and this is the youngest. It's pretty good and affordable.
Could it land in a place of armed conflict?
Yes, it was recently in Afghanistan. Last year it participated in a mission in Montenegro and Hungary, and this year it brought wounded from Ukraine.
Is it hard being a female pilot in Romania? Don't you have to face sexist attitudes?
It's actually OK. Our superiors are very open-minded. It's true that we have to prove ourselves a lot more, but they seem sincerely happy that there are so many girls in the air force.
How many of you are there?
Six on these types of planes. There were nine girls in my piloting class.
The stand of the Romanian secret service, SRI.
VICE: Which are the latest cybersecurity techniques employed by the Romanian government?
Gabriela Matei of SRI, the Romanian secret service: The methods of the Romanian Information Service are classified as state secrets.
What are the risks us normal people face in these troubled times?
The risks can come from multiple areas. From other countries we face designated advanced persistent threats, which can go on for a long time. As you may know, the Red October virus lasted many years. These attacks usually target public institutions and strategic resources. The fallout after such an attack can't be seen today or tomorrow, but in the long run it will affect us all.
How is Romania doing in the cybercrime department?
Here we have to talk about costs. Last year, cybercrime cost governments around the world 400 billion Euros. It's hard to estimate it on a national level, because there are a lot of international groups working together to pull off these kind of crimes. It's hard to stop them especially since international cooperation has never been very high on these issues.
What do you think of Anonymous?
We have classified Anonymous as cybernetic extremists. Their attacks have more an effect on the media than on us though. And we learn after each of their attacks; otherwise we wouldn't evolve.
Are there any other similar groups you can tell me about?
Not without a warrant. What is your job?
I can't say. I represent the SRI.
VICE: What can you tell me about your company?
Dragoş Deghe, head of sales at Metrom Braşov: We are a metallurgical company who make copper-zinc alloys—these are used both in the civilian industry in radiators, but also in the military industry. We pour and laminate the alloys. For artillery shots we make large, thick disks, and for weapons we make these small finger-sized pellets, which are then turned into bullets.
Do you work with the Romanian army?
We work with whoever wants to work with us and whomever the law allows us to work with.
How many bullet pellets do you make yearly?
I can't give you that type of information, and I don't think it's for the media to know.
VICE: Is this TAB (amphibious personal carrier) battle-ready?
Sergeant First Class Văduva: Yeah, it's built with three 12.7-centimeter guns. It can carry nine people, and each one gets his own seat—no pushing. For now, we have 24 of these babies. It's a Swedish product, assembled at the Mizil factory.
I thought Romania was famous for making TABs.
Yeah, we make a similar car at the Moreni factory.
Has this one seen any action?
Yes. It was used in Afghanistan, but not by me. I'm a driver, and from a mechanical point of view I couldn't be happier with it.
In retrospect, Romanian military men seemed pretty relaxed and cheerful and hardly affected by the Romanian internet's hysteria over the possibility of WWIII. On the other hand, I can't say I was particularly impressed by their weapons, either. The new machines at our disposal were few, and it didn't look like we've been produced anything new in years. In short, if the Russians ever decide to invade Romania, I'm going to be trying very hard to pronounce spasiba correctly.