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DML 1/35 M1A2 SEP Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Images by Michael Benolkin

Date of Review July 2007 Manufacturer DML
Subject M1A2 SEP Scale 1/35
Kit Number 3536 Primary Media 817 parts (669 in grey styrene, 98 etched brass, 40 clear styrene, 3 prebent metal parts, 2 DS plastic track runs, 2 prebent brass wire, 1 turned aluminum barrel, 1 spring, 1 twisted steel cable)
Pros Provides for the other major Abrams variant in US Army service; more options for building the kit; replaces "Magic Track" with DS track runs Cons Requires guide teeth to be installed on DS track runs
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $45

First Look


There are currently two variants of the Abrams tank in mainline US Army service; the M1A1 AIM (Abrams Integrated Management), which is being carried out as tanks are rebuilt; and the M1A2 SEP (Service Enhancement Program) which is the current main version of the tank being built "new." "New" is relative as many M1A2 tanks started life as M1 or IP M1 tanks 20 years ago and are being totally rebuilt from the ground up as M1A2 SEP tanks.

The main differences are that the SEP comes from the factory as a fully digitalized tank with many new features, such as automated GPS, IFF, Battle Command Information System (BCIS), automated internal climate control, and more automatic diagnostic features and self-repair modules to ensure the tank remains functional even after taking direct hits from high kinetic energy weapons. The AIM is a rebuilt M1A1 that is being brought up to digital standards and has many of the features found on the M1A2 series tanks retrofitted to it.

With the release of this kit, the only options that are not yet available in plastic for modelers are the TUSK tanks – TUSK standing for Tank Urban Survival Kit, which is a package most notable for its use of reactive armor modules on the most vulnerable parts of the tank to damage from RPGs or ATGMs.

DML has been the best of the companies modeling the M1 series tanks, but in the early days its kits were noted for the highest level of accuracy but the most finicky construction, including a bustle rack which was nearly impossible to cleanly assemble due to its molding. But with the outstanding M1 Panther II mine clearing vehicle (#3534, released May 2005) and their M1A1 AIM (#3535, released August 2006), they have corrected those problems and created a great family of kits covering the Abrams. Note that this kit bears no relationship other than its subject material to the original DML M1A2 kit (#3524) which had numerous turret and hull errors.

This kit shares many of its basic sprues with the AIM kit but in many cases the molds have been cleaned up and enhanced, and the fact that the kit has nearly 100 more parts says much for the differences. Approximately 370 parts are carried over with or without modifications and 310 are new or modified. The biggest single change in this kit is the replacement of the "Magic Track" single link tracks with two tan DS plastic track runs with separate guide teeth, similar to the concept used with the "Easy 8" suspension Sherman kits. While some modelers will squawk about having to attach the teeth, they are relatively easy as the tracks take normal plastic cements. The packaging is unique: since the tracks are way too long to fit in the box if packed flat, and complains about tracks in other kits having unwanted curves or damage set by packing them loose in the box, the ones in this kit are packed separately but folded over on themselves. To ensure there is no sharp bend, a styrene roller is provided at the flop point to ensure that the track stays flat and useable.

Note that one source indicates the tracks are a bit too long; the good news is that there are three overlap links for assembly, and that one or two can be removed and still permit a good tight joint thanks to the DS plastic makeup of the tracks.

The kit also sports some nice touches. As with the AIM, the lower hull with sponson floors is "slide molded: with even the lower brackets molded with the holes opened up in them. The suspension matches late model Abrams vehicles, with no "safety" rims for the drivers but the parts normally missed (such as V28, the mud scraper) included. The front idler and first road wheel station are interconnected to set track tension, but here consist of a five part assembly vice one part or simply molded in place axles. Once again there are some are holes to open up as you go, and DML calls them out in Step 3.

The upper hull and turret shell come with no-slip tread molded in, and while a bit heavy for some modelers is going to be fine for most people; a light wash and drybrushing will bring out the texture. Also all of the weld beads are included (raised, not trenches) and there are etched grilles for the air intakes on the engine deck. Note there are two different driver's hatches, one with a reinforced lip and one without.

The rear plate of this model is a masterpiece of molding, as it comes with 20 parts whereas the 25 year old Tamiya hull has but one. Grilles are "see-through" and as noted may be posed open or closed. All of the major panels are loose, so you have a choice of either cementing them in place or opening the tank wide for an aftermarket engine/transmission power pack. Note there are some small mistakes in the directions and a very small sheet with two corrections on it is provided.

The Chobam armor side plates come with a choice of open or closed panels, as well as etched brass top trim strips and accurate internal braces.

The turret is excellent, but retains the silly spring for "realistic recoil" that is pretty much a waste of time. The M256 gun barrel comes in seven styrene parts but it is the only realistic way to get the right shapes and details on it. It assembles in the same manner as the real one, with the bore evacuator slipped over the barrel and a "slide molded" muzzle reference system cap cemented on the end of either barrel. A complete new commander's manual control weapons station is included with the larger view blocks in clear styrene and a completely new commander's independent thermal viewer (CITV, the "top hat" device on the left side of the turret).

Side bins may be opened or closed, as can the extra smoke grenade stowage bins. The rails and bustle rack were the main complaints with the old kits, being nearly impossible to clean up and assemble; this kit retains the AIM one of three assemblies as well as etched brass flooring. Styrene or steel/etched brass/styrene tow cables are provided for the turret sides. Also included are two styles of blowoff plates, two different wind sensor masts, two different styles of thermal sight housings, different radio antenna combinations, the GPS antenna fitting on the CITV, the auxiliary power unit in the bustle, two drip pans (these go under the final drives when the vehicle is parked in a motor pool or "ecologically friendly" area), and a tow bar. The A Company 1-64 Armor auxiliary bustle rack is included, but as of this date I have no idea how many units have adopted this useful fitting. I suggest checking photos of current vehicles, as the one on the box photo does not appear to have one.

Other accessories include thermal ID panels, front turret panels, five-gallon plastic water jugs, MRE boxes, two Minigun ammo boxes, and a city-fighting thermal exhaust deflector. I can personally testify that you do NOT want to be behind an unfitted Abrams when it is running!

Markings and finishing directions are included for six different vehicles: "Hell Yeah", HQS 1-8 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division, Iraq 2004 (sand); "Absolute Death", A Company 3-67 Armor, 4th Infantry Division, Iraq 2003 (sand); "Cowboys from Hell", B Company, 1-8 Cav, 2nd Brigade Combat Team ("Black Jack" Brigade), 1st Cavalry Division, Iraq 2004 (sand); "The Hunter," HQS 3-8 Cav, 3rd Brigade Combat Team ("Grey Wolf"), 1st Cavalry Division, Iraq 2004 (sand); and 1st Battalion, 16th Cavalry, Armor School, Fort Knox, KY 2002 (three-color camouflage.) Note that unless a cavalry unit is serving as a cavalry unit (e.g. divisional reconnaissance squadron or part of an armored cavalry regiment) they have companies and not troops. Two sheets, one generic M1A1/A2 and one targeted, are provided from Cartograf as are light cardboard boxes for MREs and recognition panels.

Overall this is another really fine kit from DML and permits the modeler to build an M1A2 to match their M1A1.

Thanks to DML for the review sample.

Sprue breakdown:

  • L 2 DS plastic track runs
  • M 10 Turret body
  • N 58 Main gun and turret details
  • O 24 Bustle rack and side rails
  • P 25 Commander's weapons station
  • Q 20 Turret blowoff panels and details
  • S 40 Clear styrene
  • T 14 Hull top
  • U 40 Driver's hatch and rear plate details
  • V 57x2 Wheels
  • W 36 M1A2 turret roof details and bustle rack
  • W 40x4 Center guide teeth
  • X 46 M1A2 commander's weapons station and CITV
  • Y 1 Lower hull
  • Z 1 Twisted steel wire
  • MA 93 Etched brass
  • MD 1 turned aluminum barrel
  • MD 1 spring
  • MD 2 prebent brass wire
  • MD 1 prebent etched brass
  • MD 3 prebent metal parts
  • a 21x2 Smoke grenade projectors
  • b 12 Tow bar
  • c 7x2 Water jugs
  • d 7x2 Turret thermal ID panels, tow rope heads
  • e 11x2 Minigun ammo cans, WD-1 reel
  • f 5x2 Thermal sight base
  • g 8 Machine guns