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  1. USMC/US Army M1A1 AIM Abrams TUSK Main Battle Tank 1:35 Meng Model via Creative Models The Abrams Main Battle Tank is the direct replacement to the M60, when it was realised that the venerable design was ill-suited to further modification. The new design entered limited service in 1980 and went on to become the main heavy tank in the Army and Marines branches of the American armed forces. It saw extensive action in the two Gulf Wars, where it cleaned up against older Soviet designs with minimal damage inflicted in a stand-up fight due to its composite armour. It was developed further with the AIM programme, which upgraded the battle management systems and returned the vehicles to factory fresh condition. With the involvement of the Abrams in urban combat during the Afghanistan campaign, it became clear that the tank was vulnerable in close-quarters combat, where the top of the tank was open to attack from small arms fire and RPGs could be used with relative safety, as the firing team could pop up and disappear in between shots. The problems of IEDs buried on roads or in buildings also disabled a number of tanks in practice, all of which led to the TUSK and improved TUSK II upgrade packages, which stands for Tank Urban Survival Kit. To counter IEDs an angled "keel" was added to the underside to deflect blast away from the hull, reactive armour blocks were added to the side skirts and turrets, and bullet-resistant glass cages were mounted around the crew hatches on the turrets to provide protection for the crew during urban transit or if they were called upon to use their weapons in combat. A combat telephone was also installed on the rear of the tank to allow communication between accompanying troops and the tank, as well as slat armour to protect the exhausts for the gas turbine engine, the blast from which was directed upwards by a deflector panel that could be attached to the grille to avoid frying troops behind. The USMC have substantially different requirements to the Army, and amongst the changes made for their original HA (Heavy Armour) which were carried over to the later homogenised chassis were the Missile Countermeasure Device (MCD) on the top turret, and the deep water wading kit, which consists of a number of tubes ducting air in and exhaust out of the engine compartment. The Kit Although Meng have already released the TUSK II boxing that we reviewed here, this ostensibly similar boxing is substantially different once you get to the nitty-gritty. A lot of parts are similar, but the sprue layout and detail parts are so different that it's not really even worth reusing any of the historically newer but older boxing's photos. Dammit! The box is standard Meng and exudes class, with a nice painting on the front, and plenty of plastic inside. A more modular approach has been taken with the sprues on this boxing, so the sprue count is higher at ten plus the lower hull in sand coloured styrene, plus three clear sprues and four in black containing the track parts. Two runs of poly-caps, two nickel-plated Photo-Etch (PE) frets and a decal sheet complete the parts list, with the instruction booklet in black and white, and painting/decaling guide printed separately on glossy paper in full colour. Construction begins with the running gear, as you'd expect. Each of the paired road wheels have a polycap trapped inside, as do the drive sprockets, which are also two-part assemblies. The idler wheels are the same as a road-wheels, which makes repair easier both in the workshop and on the field. The torsion-bar suspension is made up from styrene parts and inserted through the hull into cups on the opposite side of the hull, to be joined by the final drive housing and a number of stand-off struts for the side skirts that will be installed later. The wheels just push onto their axles and can be removed for painting at your whim, and at this stage the shallow keel armour is installed before the hull is flipped over to accept the upper parts and their PE meshes. Various assemblies are built up to be added to the hull, such as the light clusters, driver's hatch, engine exhaust grilles, battery hatch and a quantity of lifting or towing eyes. The rear vents for the turbine engine's hot gases are built up in layers, with the option of the snorkel needing a few changes, and inserted into the rear of the hull along with the telephone box and rear light clusters. Side skirts are optional, so build up wither the slimline original skirts, of the ERA box-encrusted TUSK skirts as you see fit, duplicating the work on both sides. These get fitted after completion of the tracks, which are styrene and of the individual link type, which can remain workable if you are prepared to forego most of the glue. This adds a little complexity and increased parts count to the build, but with a little patience, you will be rewarded with a very realistic looking track-run. The supplied jig and carefully laid out parts allow you to make up five links at a time without scattering small parts everywhere, ensuring that the track-pins are first glued to the guide-horns whilst still on their sprues. Ten bottom track pad halves are then laid out on the jig, and the pin/horn combo is placed on top after releasing the now dry horns from their runners. The inner parts of the track pads are then added, then you release the track-pins from their sprues, as there are two friction-fit pins that hold the inner and outer track-pads together. Be careful after construction, as any side-force on the pads could result in the pin ends popping off, as happened to me on my first test. The majority of your time will be spent cleaning up the sprue gates, and take care when cutting the pads, as they can burst if you cut them too closely, leaving you with a messy joint to clean up. Another tip is to ensure that when linking all the lengths together, you arrange the clean ends with the hollow track-pin ends on the same side, as these can then be placed on the outside of the runs, because the pads are omni-directional. Repeat that process until you have two runs of 81 links and you're done. Zone out and put some good music on to make the time go faster. The snorkel kit is all attached to the hull, with one tube fitted to the rear, deflecting the hot gases from the engine upwards, while the intakes are on the engine deck to the left of the turret bustle, and have two tubes servicing the long panel that is found there. They stand up a good 3cm from the engine deck, above the level of the commander's cupola so he drowns before the engine does. The turret is next in the queue, and again a few variant specific holes are drilled in the upper, while the simple gun pivot is added to the lower with polycaps supplying friction damping on any barrel movement and allowing it to be posed at will. The big blow-off ammo storage doors, radio masts and lots of conduits, bases for the crew-served weapons are added, and the gun barrel are made up, the latter being split vertically with a hollow muzzle and a key in the rear to prevent the fume extractor bulge ending up the wrong way. The mantlet has a dust cover that you are told to tape from inside to allow it to move during elevation, but I would consider using glue to hold the tape in place, in case old age takes its toll on the adhesive. The mantlet pushes into a large socket in the pivoting base, and the sides of the turret are adorned with a large pair of stowage boxes and smaller boxes of extra cartridges for the smoke dischargers. The simple loader's hatch as clear vision blocks, as does the commander's more complex cupola, and the TV box on the right of the turret roof, plus the CITV (not the children's channel) on the front left. The smoke dischargers with covers or cartridges installed are fitted, as is the coax M2 derivative machine gun, the TV housing, the CITV turret, and the armoured conduit to the CITV. More stowage area is supplied in the form of tubular framed bins on the left and right, with more to the rear, part of which is taken up by the air conditioning unit. An additional basket can be added to the rear of the bustle, and all of these have PE mesh floors. Under the turret lower the extra armoured conduits for the AC and other hardware are scabbed onto the surface, showing how much the Abrams has changed since its early days with sleek slab sides. The MCD box fits on a bracket over the front left in an armoured enclosure with large vertical fins projecting slightly from the front, and another smaller box to the side of the TV box on the right. The commander's cupola on the TUSK variant is almost a turret in itself, having full field vision in the shape of an octagonal set of clear vision blocks set into a styrene frame. A wash of clear blue/green will give them the correct bullet-proof hue, and don't forget to mask them before it gets too cluttered. The vision blocks are dropped onto a gun-ring and the bullet-proof panels that protect the commander are built up around the sides, sitting on top of the vision blocks without impeding their view, but leaving his back exposed. The M2 machine gun is fitted to a bracket with a glazed shield preventing bullets or shrapnel sneaking past the gap. The loader's shields are slightly less impressive, and his gun is an L249 derivative, but he benefits from the protection of the commander's cupola on one side, although this was improved in the later TUSK II kit. A coax M2 machine gun is mounted on a bracket atop the mantlet, with a big box of ammo reducing the need for risky reloads under fire. Various antennae and countermeasures masts are installed to the rear of the turret along with extra ammo and fuel cans, which completes the build save for the addition of the turret to the hull. I found the equipment fit a little confusing from scanning the instructions, so choose your decal option, note down which assemblies are fitted, and put a line through those you don't need, or you'll have leftovers when you're done. Markings There are four markings options from the box that are different both in terms of colour schemes and equipment fit. The decals are printed in China, but appear to be good quality, sharpness and colour density. Registration isn't an issue, as only two decals are two colours, and they look fine. From the box you can build one of the following: A Company, 8th Tank Battalion, the II Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Task Force Tarawa), US Marine Corps., Iraq 2003. 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marines Division, US Marine Corps. D Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marines Division, US Marine Corps., Helmand Province, Afghanistan, February 2011. B Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Armoured Regiment, US Army, Iraq, July 2008. Conclusion Another awesome Abrams kit from Meng, with slightly confusing instructions for the hard of thinking (me), and plenty of options to go off-piste with the decals to model many other vehicles from the busy period in the Middle East. Highly recommended. Review sample courtesy of
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