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Academy 1/35 M1A2 Abrams SEP v2/TUSK I/TUSK II Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review April 2016 Manufacturer Academy
Subject M1A2 Abrams SEP v2/TUSK I/TUSK II Scale 1/35
Kit Number 13298 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros New tooling Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $59.00

First Look


The M1A2 Abrams program incorporated improved frontal armor protection, improved mission electronics on a digital data bus, and implementation of the independent thermal sight (ITS) (M1A1s had the mount in place but was never used until the M1A2 upgrade). While 77 new-build M1A2s rolled off the production line, most were upgrades for remanufactured Abrams. The next round of improvements came as the System Enhancement Package (SEP) which added navigation and situational awareness. The additional mission electronics required improvements to the cooling system, both of which increased the electrical load on the tank. In order to operate the tank without the main engine operating constantly, an auxiliary power unit was added to the rear turret basket.

Further enhancements came with SEP v2 (version 2) which added improved mission electronics, improved transmision, and the capability to install the Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS). The external APU was supposed to be relocated inside the hull but the APU was replaced by batteries which provided extended power with the engine shut down. SEP v3 is underway which replaces the batteries with a diesel generator in the hull and additional mission system updates.

In parallel with the tank systems improvements, combat experience with the Abrams in urban counter-insurgency missions dictated that the tank needed effective side, rear, and underside protection from anti-tank weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Tactical Urban Survival Kit (TUSK) was developed to protect tank and crew from urban insurgent threats. These improvements included explosive blocks added to the side skirts and turret sides, slat armor added to the rear, SAG-type shields for the loader's and tank commander's hatches, and a call box on the right rear of the hull so ground troops could communicate directly with the tank crew. In addition, V-shaped 'boat-hull' armor could be attached to the underside of the tank for blast-wave protection from IEDs. TUSK II introduced a curved explosive block in place of the flat explosive blocks used with TUSK I.

This is a great time to be a scale modeler. After years of neglect, we suddenly have a number of options for a truly modern M1A2 Abrams with all (or at least most) of the improvements. When Academy announced that they were also going to release M1A2 SEP v2 Abrams with TUSK options, I had expected some new-tooled parts to update their existing tooling. I had met a very knowledgeable Abrams modeler at a recent IPMS regional convention and he gave me the pros and cons of each of the new releases but he didn't know what was coming from Academy. When this kit arrived at the Cybermodeler labs, I was quite impressed. At the right, you can see that there are some nice parts provided but look closer - these are all new-tooled! For contrast, look at the Academy M1A1 released last year that has been the basis of their previous Abrams releases.

The kit is molded in tan styrene and presented on nine parts trees (duplicates not shown) plus one tree of clear parts, one set of photo-etched parts, one sheet of paint masks to protect the clear parts, and one set of rubber tracks. The kit also comes with four instruction booklets which are used sequentially up until you decide what version you're going to build.

Among the features and options presented in this kit:

  • All new-tooled parts
  • New 'long' turret with anti-slip surfaces molded into the top surfaces as well as toolbox tops
  • New lower hull with no holes for motorization
  • New upper hull with anti-slip surfaces molded into the top surfaces (appears to be in the correct areas)
  • Options to build 'vanilla' SEP v2 or TUSK I or TUSK II versions
  • Road wheel hubs are hollow with clear caps
  • Choice of solid drive sprockets or with lightening holes
  • Optional boat hull ventral armor plate
  • Optional upward exhaust deflector
  • Choice of rear tail lights/housings
  • Choice of standard, TUSK I or TUSK II side skirts
  • Positionable doors for gunner's thermal sight
  • Optional coaxial M2 machine gun over main gun
  • Optional commander and gunner gun shields over hatches
  • VCU in turret basket
  • Optional TUSK armor for turret sides
  • Spare track and Jerry can stowage on rear racks
  • Optional thermal ID panels
  • Optional CROWS II system
  • Optional Duke CREW system
  • Optional Blue Force Tracker antenna/module
  • Optional stowed tow bars

Color profiles and decals for a number of subjects are included:

  • M1A2 SEP v2, 2nd ID, US Army, South Korea, 2013 (over 40 options)
  • M1A2 TUSK, 3rd Cav Regt, US Army, Iraq, 2008
  • M1A2 TUSK, 3rd Squadron/G Troop, US Army, Iraq, 2013
  • M1A2 TUSK II, 1st Bn/22nd Inf Regt/1st Bde/4th ID, US Army, Iraq, 2008

This is a nice kit from Academy. I had assumed this would be the older tooling with some new sprues to add CROWS, TUSK plates, etc., but Academy has brought a completely new kit to market and while I'll defer to the Abrams experts how well they did, this kit does cover the laundry list of improvements cited by the Abrams expert I met at that recent IPMS event. The only thing missing is a way to replicate the unique tint of the periscopes and sights. I've seen some folks simply paint the lenses clear red to replicate one of the colors (they change color depending on the angle you see the lens from) and there are aftermarket 'stickers' that somewhat replicate that effect as well. In any case, I think you'll want to see one of these new Academy M1A2 SEP v2/TUSK/TUSK II kits for yourself!

For a look at this kit built-up, look here.

My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!