The M1 Abrams in its various versions has been the main battle tank of the United States since the 1980s. Since its introduction, this complicated combat system has seen nearly a dozen programs for improving both its lethality and protection. Through a series of refits and upgrades even early examples have been brought up to speed with the requirements of the current “low intensity conflict”.
The most visually appealing updates have been the two TUSK (Tank Urban Survival Kit) programs. The first was introduced in 2006 and added extra hull protection with reactive and slat armor, thermal sights, remotely-controlled M2 for the commander and an armoured shield to the loader’s M240 machine gun.
The TUSK II upgrade, which is the subject of this kit, adds a hull belly protection pack, and replaces hull tiles with convex ones. A layer of tiles is added to either turret sides, as well as extra protection for the loader. Strangely enough, the commanders now have to manually operate their M2 machine guns from inside a turret-like armoured structure above their hatches. An extra .50 cal is placed over the gun (as seen on Merkava tanks).
Tiger Model of China are a new company, mostly famous for their previous releases (M1A1 and M1A2 in 1/72 scale, VBL and AMX-10RCR in 1/35) during 2014.
As you can imagine, their Braille scale Abrams kits share the majority of components, which means that the three sprues inside this box contain a few spares. There are three types of commander turrets and hatches, two types of smoke grenade launchers, and side skirts.
All details for the TUSK II variant are on a separate sprue, including machine guns, a bustle rack extension, four antennae, and all the extra armor protection. Turret reactive armor suites are molded in four individual blocks, each with a separate support frame. Hull ERA packages are one-piece per side, and attached directly to one-part side skirts.
Running gear has been designed for ease of assembly, but what bothers me is both the lack of detail in the inside of the tracks, and the schematic guide teeth. Roadwheels molded on the track runs will also make painting and weathering harder to perform. All of this will still be visible below the TUSK II panels on the side, and while sprockets and guide wheels look presentable enough, the running gear is still not on par with the rest of the details in the kit.
Four of the five PE parts are referenced in the instructions – the floors for the bustle rack and its extension, and the turret face panels. As the fret is made of steel you will need tough tools to free the parts from it, and to clean the attachment points.
The pleasant surprise is the presence of a pre-cut acetate sheet with ALL transparencies required to build the variant. The good news: a transparent light-blue foil should be saving you the painting. The bad news (at least for me): mine peeled off when removing the protective layer.
There are painting instructions on a separate glossy sheet. No decals are supplied.
Instructions contain twelve building steps: starting with the basic turret components and its TUSK II protective suite, then working down through the hull, the running gear and side skirts. The build wraps up with joining turret and hull.
Actually the build proposes no real challenge beyond separating and cleaning up parts – it’s THAT easy. With that done – thanks to the alignments pins (where present) and edges, components tend to fit without a problem. The only places I used filler were the two downward-facing triangular facets on the sides of the gun mantlet. You may have to sand the join between upper and lower hull on the lower glacis.
What requires attention:
- turret details have locating pins and only fit one way (I did rotate the gunner’s sight and commander’s armor, though)
- glue the rear turret TUSK panels first, then add the front ones
- add the smoke grenade launchers after that – adjust their position according to your references
- there are no alignment features for the three recognition panels (parts B13), the spare sprocket (B28) and road wheel half (B33) on neither them, nor on the turret surfaces
- carefully bend the commander’s protection panels – the molded-in fold lines will help you get the right angles
- number the clear parts on the acetate sheet and follow the guide for installing them – they all fit as advertised, simply fix them in place with super glue
- observe the numbering of the track segments – they are DIFFERENT on the two sides – the staggered road wheels are correctly reproduced on the model
- add the antennae and machine guns at the last step to prevent breaking them.
Tiger Model’s M1A2 SEP TUSK II kit is a nicely molded, well-detailed kit, and the first offering for a TUSK-equipped Abrams in this scale. It also requires minimal effort for assembly. Combine it with abundant options for weathering and you get a very desirable kit to build.
Other plastic kits
In 2013 Tamiya released a 1/35 kit of a TUSK II-equipped M1A2 SEP.