The good news is that Dragon's M1A1 AIM kit is one of the best values in 1/35th. It practically falls together, is very detailed, has few accuracy issues, and is surprisingly cheap to buy if you shop around. The kit usually tops most lists of "if you're only going to buy one modern tank, it should be...." And it's probably the most-famous tank of the past two decades, having fought in both Gulf Wars and now in a limited role in Afghanistan.
The bad news, however, if you're interested in doing a USMC Abrams in styrene out-of-the-box, is that you're SOL. As is "**** out of luck."
No styrene manufacturer has a decent "Jarhead" Abrams (that irreverent nickname for Marines apparently comes from the short haircuts popular with base barbers). And conversions or upgrades have been rather hit-or-miss until now. When I built my Bad Mofo in Iraq (click here
), I had to rely on the kindness of strangers for corrected smoke grenade launchers, the AN/VLQ-6 Missile Countermeasure Device (MCD) unit, etc.
What was true for Operation Iraqi Freedom USMC tanks and post OIF Abrams is now just as true for the 14 M1A1s deployed to Afghanistan by the Marines: no styrene kit will yield a USMC-ready Abrams OOB. Heavy tanks designed to defeat a Soviet invasion of Europe don't fare well against insurgents armed with IEDs, especially in the mountainous areas of A'stan. But as noted, there are 14 tanks from Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward) serving in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan where the land is flatter (and the bad guys more susceptible to tanks).
And as has been true of Marines for generations, the A'stan Abrams have been adapted to the conditions, in this case dropping most of the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK) kit except for three items: belly armor, the thermal sight on the commander's .50 cal MG, and the Loader's gun shields. After Market manufacturers are starting to address the gap in the USMC Abrams void, but up until now with mixed results. Voyager's new USMC Abrams set, for example, has been criticized because the sets include items not appropriate to M1s in Afghanistan, especially the explosive reactive armor on the side skirts.
The good news is that Perfect Scale Modellbau has now come to our rescue with an upgrade/conversion that will take a Dragon or even Tamiya M1A1 OOB to USMC A'stan-ready.
The set comes in a standard cardboard box with a photo showing the completed tank on the top. Inside you will find:
A zip lock baggie containing 70 gray resin parts
A piece of clear plastic for the Loader's gun shields
A small fret of PE
3 pages of instructions in German & English on two standard sheets of paper
I'm really impressed with the research that went into this box: PSM has provided only the right components for an A'stan USMC M1A1, along with a few items the manufacturer felt modelers will want, even though they're not in use in Afghanistan, including the air intakes for the Deep Water Fording Kit or DWFK, and the loader's hatch armor.
The set runs from big items to the small, essential things like the USMC 8-barrel smoke launchers:
1.) 1-piece belly armor
2.) smoke launchers & mounting racks
3.) CREW Duke antennas (Counter Radio-Controlled IED Electronic Warfare)
4.) bustle rack extension with PE "floor"
5.) thermal sight for commander's MG (the "ma deuce")
6.) BFT (blue force tracker) antenna
7.) AN/VLQ-6 Missile Countermeasure Device (MCD) note: not on A'stan-deployed USMC Abrams
8.) a beautifully-detailed MCD cooling unit
9.) the "manhole cover" the MCD is mounted on (including correct attachment bars)
10.) MCD cable receptacle
11.) T/I (tank/infantry) phone box so soldiers on the ground can communicate with the tank commander
12.) forward air controller antennas & cable duct
13.) rear right tail light & cover
14.) Loader's MG shield with clear plastic for panes (note: loader's hatch armor is included in the set, but not used on A'stan M1A1s
15.) slave cable receptacle
The casting is very crisp, and there was no obvious warpage as often happens with resin. For example, the delicate bustle rack extension rails all seemed to have survived the trip over from Germany with no breaks or warpage. Likewise the photo etch fret showed no bending or distortion.
While M1A1s in A'stan are a small portion of the AFVs deployed there, those of us who love Marine Corps vehicles know we have to have one of these tanks. Unlike with the OIF USMC Abrams, these babies are pretty vanilla in decoration, with few of the colorful names or individualized markings (and which require the cooperation of decal manufacturers). That does lead me to my one quibble with the set: it lacks the basic USMC markings. Apparently a supplemental decal sheet is in the works, but there are so few, I would have preferred seeing them included, especially given the set's price.
The instructions are in German & English, and lay out the elements to be added to the Dragon kit in a clear fashion that's easy to follow. One of the advantages of this "conversion" is that very little surgery is required, so the set will delight even first-time resin users (I don't have to repeat the warnings about resin dust to you guys, do I?). My only knock on the instructions is I wish they would identify the various components. I confess I sometimes have trouble remembering all the various high-tech gadgets and add-ons with their alphabetic forest of names found on the modern Main Battle Tank.
Quick: can you identify the BFT and not confuse it with the MCD, T/I phone box or CREW Duke antennas? You'll be tested on this later.
Simply put, this set is the answer to anyone looking to build a USMC M1A1 Abrams in Afghanistan. And for those who want a vanilla USMC M1A1 suitable for OIF or other scenarios, Perfect Scale Modellbau has a slightly cheaper kit (35080
). The bottom line, though, is that my days of search and acquire are over, and a correct USMC A'stan M1A1 is in my future.
Our thanks to Perfect Scale Modellbau for providing this review sample. Please be sure to say you saw it reviewed here on Armorama when ordering.