ARM: Review - Meng 1/35 scale Russian Main Battle Tank T-90A

Kit Review: Meng Model 1/35 scale Tyrannosaurus Series Kit No. TS-006; Russ ian Main Battle Tank T-90A; 1,498 parts (579 in black styrene, 488 in dark green styrene, 404 black vinyl, 13 clear styrene, 10 etched brass, 3 light tan vinyl, 1 nylon string); retail price US$79.99

Advantages: most detailed model of a modern Soviet/Russian tank extant; tre mendous amount of detail provided; only one other than the SKIF T-55 to inc lude an engine in the kit

Disadvantages: with 980 parts to them and five-part track links the tracks are not likely to win many fans

Rating: Highly Recommended

Recommendation: for all modern Russian armor fans

As I noted a while back with the Zvezda T-90 kit, timing, as the advertisi ng men say, is everything. In 1989 the Ural Railway Wagon Building Factory (Uralvagonzavod) under its chief designer, Vladimir Potkin, reworked their T-72B design to both add built-in second generation reactive armor and the new ?Shtora-1" active protection defense system among other modifications . They dubbed the new Article 188 tank the T-72BM (for modified, but it was also called T-72BU for ?usovershenyy? or ?improved?) and prepared to offer it to the government for acceptance and foreign sales in 1990. But ...

The disastrous performance of the Iraqi army in Desert Storm in early 1991 with the total destruction of T-72s in Iraqi service by M1A1 and Challenge r 2 tanks with no confirmed friendly losses turned any T-72 offered for sal e into a drug on the market. While the UVZ knew their new model could survi ve against most foreign tanks , being a ?T-72" meant nobody wanted it. Fa ced with this dilemma, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in Decembe r 1991, the UVZ was not in a good position.

However, President Boris Yeltsin solved the problem when the tank was acce pted for service in October 1992 as the ?T-90 - the First Russian Main Ba ttle Tank? as it was announced to the world. Dubbed the T-90 Model 1992, the new tank was now offered for sale as a new vehicle (which it was not).

The new variant was a big improvement over the T-72 series, and also was g oing to be offered for foreign sales on a nearly equivalent model to the Ru ssian one ? the T-90S. Previously the Soviets had marketed downgraded ver sions (derisively referred to as ?monkey models? as they were so simple monkeys could operate them) but with the failures of the T-72M and T-72M1 variants in Iraq they had little choice. The Indians were their first major customer and bought 300 of the new tanks, followed by at least 300 more la ter. The Russian Army was not as quick to buy them for a myriad of reasons, and surprisingly has only purchased around 700-800 of them over 20 years o f the tank?s production run.

The T-90 has been produced in four basic models. The first two were the T-

90 Model 1992 and its equivalent foreign sales version, the T-90S. But in 1 999 UVZ introduced a new all-welded turret to replace the B model?s cast/ welded turret with a state-of-the-art one that is easier to upgrade. The ne w tank was dubbed the T-90A Model 1999 and the equivalent export variant is the T-90SA. Over the years the tank has been continually upgraded as well, and the engine has gone from a V-84M of 840 HP to first the V-84MS and the n the 1000 HP V-92S2. The ?S? on the latter two engines means ?silfon ? or a tube that draws fresh air into the exhaust to suppress the tank? s infrared heat signature, which is shown by a completely new exhaust port on the left side of the tank. Also ?Shtora? which originally included t wo IR searchlight/missile suppression jammers on the front of the turret ha s replaced them with more reactive armor boxes. Most visible to most people was the replacement of the RMSh single-pin ?dead? tracks with the new UMSh twin-pin ?live? tracks (called the ?Universal? track as it wil l be the only large tracks in use when all tanks and tank-based AFVs are up graded).

The Zvezda kit has now been joined by another kit of the same variant, the T-90A Model 1999, by Meng Models. This kit is interesting in that it was d esigned with the cooperation of Aleksey Khlopotov, a Russian armor historia n and writer. While Aleksey is a modeler and analyst of Russian armor, what he rarely notes is that he once worked for the Nizhniy Tagil Technical Ins titute for Metallurgical Research (NTIMI) which was a research arm of the U VZ tank plant. As they say in the underworld, consider Aleksey ?connected ?. I do not know how long he had been working on this project, but I do k now he produced a rather critical assessment of the Zvezda kit when it was released and panned it for a number of errors; for the moment let us note t hat the errors were not something 99.99% of Western modelers would ever hav e caught.

So how is this kit? In one word, stunning. The amount of detail that Meng has given this kit is truly incredible. It provides the Russian armor model er with a kit of similar detail level to the DML Tiger I and Panzer III/Stu rm III kits with separate torsion bars and detailed shock absorbers among o ther nice touches. It also provides a complete V-92S2 1000 HP diesel engine complete with the new exhaust nozzle with thermal shrouding and also the c urious ?Sil?fon? device: this draws cold air from the air cleaner to suppress the heat signature of the tank.

There are 43 steps in the construction of this kit, about the same as thos e used on the Xact T-80U kit. One thing that Meng has done and few others a ttempt is to provide aids to assemble the kit. I don?t see it mentioned i n the directions but etched brass part C is a wheel stencil for painting th e road wheels prior to installation as it masks off the tire from the wheel center.

Most of the kit assembles in the fashion most armor modelers expect, start ing with the lower hull and suspension. There are holes that need to be dri lled in some spots so it will require following the directions closely. If you have assembled either the Zvezda T-90A or Xact T-80U then little in the parts breakdown will be a surprise.

This kit does provide the best Soviet-style lever action shock absorbers ( parts E-7, E-9, B-14, B-22and they even may be permitted to operate if care is used on assembly. As this is a T-90 there are six of them vice four on older tanks.

Step 7 covers the tracks, and this is a very tedious step. Each track link consists of a link, guide tooth, and two end connectors; a separate part c overs the rubber track face pads (part H-2) for those who want the newer ?asfal?tnyy? (pavement) tracks. The good news is that Meng provides a three piece assembly jig (Parts J) for asemblying sets of six links at a t ime. The end connectors are vinyl so I am not sure how well they will hold; some comments on the Internet would indicate they work well but take a lot of time to fiddle around with during assembly. (I was amazed that the best tracks so far are the ones from the Zvezda kit that are link and length wi th separate teeth; they did that with less than 40 parts.)

The V-92S2 is a nice kit on its own and consists of some 39 parts to inclu de etched brass covers. A firewall is included but no radiator, oil cooler, transmission or fan are provided for the engine compartment.

The upper hull assembly is as before similar to the other two kits mention ed. But the entire fender tips are slide molded and one piece styrene affai rs, a nice touch. A styrene spring and fillet finish off each one. The driv er?s hatch and the area called the ?decolletage? by the Russians (the area in front of the driver?s viewers) is a separate part that attaches to the hull top. The rear radiator air exhaust assembly (part B-27) is the most accurate rendering of this assembly I have seen yet.

In Step 19 note that the kit comes with two engine decks and the proper on e to use here is N-7. The deflector flaps for the rear air exhausts are als o included (parts F-12). The unditching log and tow cables are pretty conve ntional; the former needs distressing with a razor saw scraped along it, an d the latter may be better using twisted steel or brass wire.

The tank like other T-72/T-90 models uses the ?demand? fuel access to the two auxiliary tanks on the rear and provides the correct plumbing (part s C-32/C-34) for them.

The main gun consists of 8 parts in styrene - no brass trim rings - but do es come with the correct cutback behind the muzzle protector (part A-73) fo r the mounting of an MRS (UUI in Russian) mirror device; however this tank does not have that system fitted. The muzzle is also flattened on one side, so it is a good match for the 2A46M-5 gun fitted to this tank type.

Also like the other two kits, the model comes with the inner hatch details for the commander?s and gunner?s sights and controls. It took comes wi th the complete 1EhTs29 commander?s weapon station with remote controlled NVPT machine gun, but unlike the early Zvezda kits all of the bits are the re!

One surprise is the tiny amount of etched brass in this kit - only 9 parts if one ignores the wheel stencil. But it really doesn?t need them and th e molding of the parts is crisp and quite good.

As noted source is indicated as Aleksey Khlopotov (?Gur Khan?) and a v ery nice instruction book is provided with history and information in Engli sh, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.

Finishing instructions and decals are provided for six different tanks: tw o from the 27th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, Victory Parade, Moscow May

2011 (overall dark green with Guards badges and bort numbers); one for the 19th Motorized Rifle Brigade, North Caucasus Military District (tricolor wi th bort numbers and armored markings); and three more tanks from the 27th G uards Motorized Rifle Brigade, Victory Parade, Moscow May 2008 (tricolor wi th Guards badges and bort numbers). A number jungle of bort (turret or side ) numbers is included along with four different subunit markings on a Carto graf decal sheet.

Overall other than the overwrought tracks this is an excellent kit, but ov erall it will be up to the modeler how much he really wants that last bit o f accuracy. If this kit is a 10 (and it really is!) the Zvezda one is about an 8-8.5 ? and half the price.

Cookie Sewell

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