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DML 1/35 ZSU-23-4M Shilka Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review March 2006 Manufacturer DML
Subject ZSU-23-4M Shilka Scale 1/35
Kit Number 3518 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Very nice detailing around the hull and turret; very nice track links Cons
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) Out of Production

First Look


The Russians have a long memory. Their country has been invaded, occupied, and ransacked numerous times over the last two thousand years. After the Great Patriotic War (World War II), the Soviet government took steps to shield Russia from any further incursions and to apply the lessons learned from expelling the Germans from their territory.

One significant lesson learned was the need for air defense, in fact a multi-tiered air defense. Soviet military architects devised a combination of fixed gun installations to protect strategic targets and mobile guns to protect the ground armies. The air defense forces (PVO) were likewise divided to provide fighter/interceptor coverage over the homeland and over the troops.

As radar and missile technology advanced, these capabilities were woven into the air defense umbrella with great success. The one weakness in their umbrella was on the front lines. Attacking aircraft could fly below the minimum altitudes of the surface-to-air missiles and pop-up inside their minimum effective range and destroy the missile site. Existing mobile guns like the ZSU-57-2 and the towed guns of various calibers were usually optically aimed and not effective in small numbers. Enter the ZSU-23-4.

The ZSU (Z - anti-aircraft, S - self-propelled, U - gun mount) 23 (23mm guns) 4 (four guns) is based upon the (relatively) light weight ASU-85 chassis and designed for providing tactical air defense near the leading edge of the battle. The system is self-contained with its own search/track radar (Gun Dish) and its deadly quad array of 23mm cannons with a rate of fire of 800-1000 rounds per minute per barrel. As the Israelis discovered during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, you’re pretty much screwed if you fly into the kill zone of this formidable gun system.

In Soviet ground forces (and those of the Warsaw Pact), the ZSU-23-4 was not employed by itself since it wouldn’t take much to pickle a Mk.82 onto the vehicle from outside the gun system’s maximum range. Soviet air defense architects wisely paired the ZSU-23-4 up with the SA-9 Gaskin, so that an air raider cannot engage one without being engaged by the other. Of course, if that same air raider attempted to smite the ZSU-23-4 and SA-9 from above the SA-9’s effective range, the aircraft would be deep inside the kill zones of many other more dangerous SAM systems. There was something to be said for tiered air defense! As technology advanced, the SA-9 was replaced by the SA-13 Gopher, but the ZSU-23-4 soldiered on. Today, the ZSU-23-4 and SA-13 are being replaced by the 2S6, which is a more modern radar-directed gun system like the ZSU, but also carries SA-19 missile canisters replacing the need for the separate SA-9/SA-13 vehicles.

I remember holding a scratch-built ZSU-23-4 in 1/35 scale made by none other than Cookie Sewell long before there was a Dragon Models. This was back in the early 1980s when he bravely let me hold his work of art, but then let me examine his scratch-built 1/35 SCUD missile TEL from a respectful distance. Since those days, Cookie helped the fledgling DML with the research into many of the armor subjects that we take for granted today. Sometime just after Desert Storm, Cookie told me that DML was developing the ZSU-23-4 kit, though their first test shot has problems with the guns and the track links. Evidently the display vehicle DML designers examined and photographed had used broomsticks for gun barrels and these were faithfully reproduced in the test shot. These were corrected into the beautiful releases we have now.

DML produced two versions of the vehicle, the ZSU-23-4V1 (model 1972) which was likely the version that the Israelis ‘met’ on the battlefields of Egypt and Sinai, and the improved ZSU-23-4M (model 1977). This kit represents the latter version.

Molded in light gray styrene, the kit is presented on five parts trees plus a separate lower hull molded in light gray styrene, and two additional parts trees containing the track links molded in gun metal-colored styrene.

Assembly of the kit begins with the radar. The radar can be built in the operational position and can be rotated in acquisition mode or pointed in line with the guns in track mode. By swapping parts C18 with parts C19, you can build the radar in the stowed position where it hangs behind the turret.

Next comes the lower hull. The suspension arms are molded in place, so this step is limited to installing the twelve road wheels, the drive sprockets, and return rollers. Once the wheels are installed, the track links need to be assembled and installed. This is not a difficult task as I learned with another DML project (look here).

Attention is turned to the upper hull and all of the fixtures that need to be added. The detailing here is outstanding and a little attention to cleaning up parts and dry-fitting will make for a problem-free build.

Next step is the gun mount and its installation into the turret. As with the upper hull, the detailing is very nicely done and taking your time will make for a faster build.

The final assembly step is bring the turret, upper and lower hulls together and adding the tow cable. Time to decide on colors and markings!

Markings are provided for a typical Soviet parade machine with the compulsory Guards emblem on the side of the hull. Markings for ZSU-23-4s from Iraq, East Germany, Lebanon, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Vietnam, and Syria are also included.

This is one kit that I very much looked forward to building. The first one went together nicely though it was lost a few moves ago. I had another in my stash that I’d planned to build until I saw an ad nearly ten years ago for an interior detail set from Jaguar that turned out to be a fishing expedition as the set was never released. I hoped that someone would finally get around to an interior detail set for this kit and my patience was finally rewarded – Trakz recently released their interior detail set for the ZSU-23-4 which we reviewed here.

I was at a recent hobby show and found several ZSU-23-4 kits on the sale tables for very reasonable prices, so even though this kit is out of production (again – it was re-released by DML), there are plenty of them to be found should you not have one hidden in your stash already.

With the DML 1/35 ZSU-23-4 and SA-9, the Trumpeter 1/35 SA-2 and SA-6, as well as the Skif 1/35 SA-13 and announced 2S6, multi-tiered Soviet air defense is becoming readily available to your kit collection.