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Russian Main Battle Tank T-90A

Meng 1/35 Russian Main Battle Tank T-90A Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review August 2013 Manufacturer Meng
Subject Russian Main Battle Tank T-90A Scale 1/35
Kit Number TS006 Primary Media 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)
Pros Most detailed model of a modern Soviet/Russian tank extant; tremendous amount of detail provided; only one other than the SKIF T-55 to include an engine in the kit Cons With 980 parts to them and five-part track links the tracks are not likely to win many fans
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $79.99

First Look

As I noted a while back with the Zvezda T-90 kit, timing, as the advertising 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 Challenger 2 tanks with no confirmed friendly losses turned any T-72 offered for sale into a drug on the market. While the UVZ knew their new model could survive against most foreign tanks , being a "T-72" meant nobody wanted it. Faced with this dilemma, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the UVZ was not in a good position.

However, President Boris Yeltsin solved the problem when the tank was accepted for service in October 1992 as the "T-90 - the First Russian Main Battle 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 going to be offered for foreign sales on a nearly equivalent model to the Russian one – the T-90S. Previously the Soviets had marketed downgraded versions (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 later. 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 of 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 1999 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 new 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 then 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 two IR searchlight/missile suppression jammers on the front of the turret has 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 will be the only large tracks in use when all tanks and tank-based AFVs are upgraded).

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 designed with the cooperation of Aleksey Khlopotov, a Russian armor historian 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 Institute for Metallurgical Research (NTIMI) which was a research arm of the UVZ 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 know 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 that the errors were not something 99.99% of Western modelers would ever have 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 modeler with a kit of similar detail level to the DML Tiger I and Panzer III/Sturm III kits with separate torsion bars and detailed shock absorbers among other 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 curious "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 those used on the Xact T-80U kit. One thing that Meng has done and few others attempt is to provide aids to assemble the kit. I don't see it mentioned in the directions but etched brass part C is a wheel stencil for painting the 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, starting with the lower hull and suspension. There are holes that need to be drilled 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 covers 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 assembling sets of six links at a time. 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 with 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 include 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 mentioned. But the entire fender tips are slide molded and one piece styrene affairs, a nice touch. A styrene spring and fillet finish off each one. The driver'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 one to use here is N-7. The deflector flaps for the rear air exhausts are also included (parts F-12). The unditching log and tow cables are pretty conventional; the former needs distressing with a razor saw scraped along it, and 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 (parts C-32/C-34) for them.

The main gun consists of 8 parts in styrene - no brass trim rings - but does come with the correct cutback behind the muzzle protector (part A-73) for 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 with the complete 1EhTs29 commander's weapon station with remote controlled NVPT machine gun, but unlike the early Zvezda kits all of the bits are there!

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 the molding of the parts is crisp and quite good.

As noted source is indicated as Aleksey Khlopotov ("Gur Khan") and a very nice instruction book is provided with history and information in English, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.

Finishing instructions and decals are provided for six different tanks: two 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 with bort numbers and armored markings); and three more tanks from the 27th Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, Victory Parade, Moscow May 2008 (tricolor with Guards badges and bort numbers). A number jungle of bort (turret or side) numbers is included along with four different subunit markings on a Cartograf decal sheet.

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

Sprue Layout:

  • ‒ 1 Upper hull
  • ‒ 1 Lower hull
  • ‒ 1 Turret shell
  • ‒ 1 Nylon string
  • ‒ 20 Vinyl poly caps
  • ‒ 3 Vinyl mantlet cover, tanker's shlemofon helmets
  • A 75 Turret base, ERA arrays, smoke grenade bases, turret details
  • B 39 Wiring, shock absorbers, engine deck, unditching log
  • C 52 Fender bins, skirts, glacis ERA, lights, details
  • D 88 Turret details, NVPT machine gun, fender tips, drivers
  • E 29x3 Road wheels, smoke grenade launchers, torsion bars
  • F 30x2 Skirt ERA boxes, idlers, fuel tank racks and ends
  • G 15x2 Shtora search light bodies, laser warning sensors
  • H 72x8 Track pads, guide teeth
  • H 48x8 Black vinyl - end connectors
  • J 3 Track assembly jig
  • K 13 Clear styrene
  • M 41 V-92S2 engine, firewall
  • N 13 V-92S2 engine "silfon" fitting, engine deck
  • MA 5 Etched brass
  • MB 4 Etched brass
  • MC 1 Etched brass (stencil)

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