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T-90 Model 1992, T-90S, T-90A, T-90 'Bichma' Conversion Set

Miniarm 1/35 T-90 Model 1992, T-90S, T-90A, T-90 'Bichma' Conversion Set First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review May 2007 Manufacturer Miniarm
Subject T-90 Model 1992, T-90S, T-90A, T-90 'Bichma' Conversion Set Scale 1/35
Kit Number 35032 Primary Media 24 parts (23 in light grey-green resin, 1 length of soft brass wire)
Pros Helps turn the T-72M1 into an early model T-90 or T-90S Cons Need some work on the part of the modeler, heavy pour blocks on some items
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $40.00

First Look

The T-72 has not had a happy time of it since the fall of the Soviet Union. While one of the "best sellers" for the Soviets and the "Uralvagonzavod" in the 1980s, with the fall of the Union in 1991 combined with the debacle of Operation Desert Storm in that same year put the factory in a tough spot. The T-72, long vaunted as one of the most powerful tanks in the world, lost both its prestige and its backers within a year.

While former Soviet flacks tried to spin the Gulf War to their advantage, the fact of the matter was that most prospective customers believed the American version of events and not the Soviet one. (Soviet Claim: only 14 T-72s were lost by the Iraqis and most of them were destroyed by their own crews to prevent capture. American Claim: B Company 4th Tanks of the USMC destroyed 34 T-72M and T-72M1 tanks in less than 14 minutes.)

Meanwhile, back in Russia they had been working on improving their domestic version of the tank. First they produced the T-72BM which made a number of changes to the vehicle, including replacing the 4S20 add-on reactive armor ("Kontakt-1") with the new second-generation 4S22 ("Kontakt-5") reactive armor in new arrays. The vehicles received a new 1A40-1 fire control system backed up by a 1K13-2 sight for a through-the-bore antitank guided missile system. Other changes were made, but there was no real quantum leap forward in this tank and only a few were procured by the Soviet Army.

This was followed by a far more modified dubbed the T-72BU. This tank added a modified version of the 1A45 "Irtysh" fire control system from the T-80U which both improved the fire control of the T-72B as well as standardized most parts with the two tanks. It got a new V-84 diesel engine of 840 HP (780 HP in early models), new radio sets, and a meteorological sensor mast. Lastly, it was equipped with the brand-new "Shtora-1" passive/active protection system that detected laser rangefinders and target designators. This system would then either slew the turret to face the threat or fire smoke grenades to blind the enemy; it also used "dazzlers" on either side of the turret to disrupt the tracking control of enemy ATGM gunners.

But with the T-72 designator being a drug on the market, in 1992 new Russian President Boris Yeltsin wisely (at least from a marketing standpoint) changed the designator to T-90 and proclaimed it the "First Russian Tank." Unfortunately even with all these changes the Russians were broke, and over the course of 15 years they have only been able to purchase less than 350 tanks for their own use. Happily the Indians stepped in and purchased 310 of the tanks fitted out for hot climate operations as the T–90S, so the production lines have kept going.

Over the years the T-90 has undergone a number of changes. The very first one was to replace the old single-pin RMSh tracks with new twin-pin RMSh types that were improved versions of the tracks used on the T-80 family of vehicles. These are now called the "Universal Tracks" and are being fitted to all Russian vehicles using T-72 or T-80 chassis and components.

In 1999 a new welded turret was introduced and while not formally identified resulted in a tank called either the T-90 Model 1999 (T-90S Model 1999) or T-90A (T-90SA) on Russian blog sites. This has better armor resistance than the cast turret.

Also the tank received first a modifed version of the V-84 engine, the V-84MS, and later the new 1000 HP V-92S2 engine. Both of these engines are externally identified by a long, curving "anteater" type exhaust tube that has baffles over and under it as well as a grille in the duct itself. These draw cold air from the air cleaner and reduce the tank's overall signature.

Miniarm's new series of kits now permit regular modelers to produce the members of the T-90 family; the "T-90A" welded turret will follow along later this year and the only component not yet offered by Miniarm is the new exhaust mounting and tube for the V-84MS/V-92S2 engine installation. Picking up kits B35005, B35031 and B35032 will permit the modeler to make one of the very earliest of the T-90 series with the standard RMSh kit tracks; adding B35034 to the mix provides for the standard production Model 1992 or the early version of the T-90S, dubbed "Bishma" by the Indian Army. (The Russians named the tank the "Vladimir" in honor of designer Vladimir Potkin, who died of a heart attack shortly after the vehicle was accepted for service.)

The kits are typical of the fine product line from Miniarm, and all of them seem to match the profiles of their prototype very well. However, these are older technology products, which in resin says sizeable pour plugs that must be removed. Most are at least logically sited so they can be removed without damage to the part, but great care will have to be taken with the bins on the turret.

That being said, the kits all state that they are for either the Tamiya or the Trumpeter T-72M1 kits. In good conscience, I must heartily recommend that only the Tamiya kit be considered. The Trumpeter T-72M1 kit is literally a cheesy knock-off of the Tamiya kit (the directions are xeroxed from the original with the logos cut off) and, like all second-rate copies, the kit possesses lousy fit and finish. Ergo, plan on the Tamiya one even at twice the price.

Once you have the right kit, the rest is relatively simple as the directions, while "point and stick" photos, show what has to be cut off the original and where the new bits go.

The hull parts are more extensive than some in the past, as it provides both the new glacis and fender section to replace the T-72M1 glacis (this one has the built-in "Kontakt-5" armor arrays in it) as well as some of the details added, such as reinforced rubber "flapper" covers for the rear air exhaust vents, new final drive drain assemblies, and the "Kontakt-5" panels for the front half of the side skirts. They also provide directions for the "stagger" to these panels for installation. There are a number of kit parts used, so the directions show where the kit parts fit on the new glacis. These include the tow hooks, headlights and guards, and marker lights, and the wire is provided to run new control wires down to the stub control connectors for the mine plow fittings. It also provides new attachment fittings for the front of the hull to replace the somewhat anemic kit parts.

No finishing directions are provided by any of the sections, but all of the Russian ones seen so far are in some variation of their new standard camouflage of sand grey, dark green and black. Since the colors vary nearly from vehicle to vehicle, there aren't any really good color matches to give for them other than suggesting FS37038 black and FS34088 dark green.

Overall, these kits do provide a chance for the modeler to create one of the more current tanks in Russia or to create the Indian Army Bishma tank. For those wanting a later version, the welded T-90 turret, combined with the other three elements of this grouping, should provide a model of that tank later this summer, and if Miniarm releases the new exhaust assembly a current production version can be built.

Thanks to Bill Miley of CMD for the review sample.