The TR-580 existed as a local Romanian offshoot of the popular Soviet-era T-55 Main Battle Tank (MBT). The design was brought about as an indigenous initiative to provide a self-sufficient reach to Romanian military industry in regards to its ongoing requirements. The T-55 formed the basis of what would become the new Romanian tank serving from the late 1970s to today (2015). Roughly 632 of the type are believed to have been manufactured with service only through the Romanian Army and a limited delivery deal with the nation of Iraq in the 1980s.
Following the events of August - September 1968, which saw Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Union invade Czechoslovakia to derail liberal reforms of the "Prague Spring", Romanian government officials saw the value of building an effective local arms industry and commissioned for a new MBT that could be produced in Romanian factories. Based on the agreed-upon requirements, the Soviet T-55 MBT was selected as the starting point for a Romanian-centric vehicle. Since Romania lacked the industry to design, develop, and mass produce an MBT from nothing, it made fiscal and material sense to modify an existing, proven design. Additionally, the T-55 was a Cold War success story with sales to over 50 nations (including Romania) with an estimated 100,000 units built. Romania operated several variants of the T-55 as the "T-55AM"
With the selection of the T-55 moving forward, the Army was to be given a solid performer with a surplus of existing parts in the Romanian military supply chain. The new program involved modifications to the base system that included a lengthening of the hull, side "skirt" armor protecting the upper track regions, and an extra road wheel added to each hull side. By and large, the tank retained the same general design lines of the original Soviet model. The armament remained a 100mm rifled main gun of and a diesel engine with a minimum of 500 horsepower output was sought. The engine of choice was initially to be the West German engine as fitted to the Leopard 1 MBT (MTU MB 838 of 820 horsepower) which forced the aforementioned changes to the hull and the addition of the road wheels.
Development of the tank began in 1974 and yielded a pilot vehicle for testing followed by ten pre-production vehicles for evaluation. The vehicle initially carried the designation of "TR-77" and, since the Leopard 1 engine did not become available due to Warsaw Pact / Western tensions, the tank featured a local 580 horsepower diesel instead - the same V-55 V-12 water-cooled turbo-diesel engine of 580 horsepower seen in the original T-55 MBT. Authorities targeted for production of some 400 tanks under the designation of "TR-580" ("Tanc Romanesc Model 580"). The official designation became an amalgamation of the two designations - "TR-77-580" - and it was known to the West as either "M1977" or "M77".
Performance included a road speed of 50 kph with a maximum range out to 380 kilometers. NBC protection was standard with night vision available. The 100mm main gun was the A308 series rifled system and this was backed by a 7.62mm SGMT coaxial machine gun fitting. A 12.7mm DShK heavy machine gun was situated over the turret roof for local defense. 50 x 100mm projectiles were carried along with 3,500 x 7.62mm and 500 x 12.7mm rounds of ammunition.
Production of the TR-580 spanned form 1979 into 1985. The system became a 42-ton creation with a crew of four and featured a low profile silhouette consistent with Soviet tanks of the period. In time, a modernized form was worked on which produced the "TR-580M" model and included a laser rangefinder fitted over the 100mm main gun. The "TCZ-580" became an Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) variant of the TR-580 with equipment in line with the Czechoslovakian VT-55A ARV. The export mark of the TR-580 MBT became "TM-800" and the ARV form was the "TER-800".
In 1981, the government of Iraq placed an order for 150 Romanian TR-580 tanks to strengthen its existing stock of T-55s and these units were delivered between 1981 and 1984 through Egyptian connections. Many were destroyed in subsequent combat or scrapped following the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The TR-580 was eventually succeeded by the modern "TR-85", an MBT offering based on the T-55 featuring an all-new turret design with an all-new Fire Control System (FCS) to boot. The vehicle now included a German-originated engine and was given a new suspension system for improved cross country traversal. The TR-85 is detailed elsewhere on this site.
At present (2015), the Romanian Army has 42 remaining TR-580 MBTs in service along with about 530 T-55AM and T-55AM2 tanks. The TR-85 is represented through 249 TR-85 MBTs and 54 TR-85M1 "Bizon" series vehicles. All Iraqi TR-580s are believed to be lost to history.