by: Georg Eyerman [ ]
Back in July, Bill Cross asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in building the new Kinetic Models M3A3 Bradley kit. I replied that I did not, but as the conversation wound around, as it usually does, I accepted the job. Now, Iím not a modern armor person. Itís not my primary area of interest or knowledge, so I planned from the beginning not to change anything unless absolutely necessary. I figured that this would be something outside my comfort range and be an interesting addition to my model collection.
I did a little research on this beast to find out what made an M3A3 an M3A3 and found out that the vehicle ďuses enhanced information and communication equipment, a central processing unit, and information displays for the vehicle commander and squad leader. The M3A3 is compatible with the inter-vehicular communication system of the M1A2 Abrams tank and AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter. The commander has an independent thermal viewer and a new integrated sight unit called the Improved Bradley Acquisition System (IBAS), which allows automatic gun adjustments, automatic boresighting, and tracking of dual targets. The roof is reinforced with titanium armor. Many M3A3s were converted from M3A2s.Ē At least according to Wikipedia, as I have exactly zero in my references on this beast.
The kit itself looks nice in the box: the usual sprues (7), an upper and lower hull, a small clear plastic sprue for the vision blocks, a set of polycaps for the wheels (more about them later), a small photo-etch fret, a flexible plastic part and a small sheet of decals. The instruction book and color profile sheet (with profiles for 2 vehicles, one desert sand and the other in CARC 3-tone camouflage) round out the contents.
The instructions take you through 35 steps(!) from start to finish. I found, for the most part, that the instructions were pretty good, but there are some problems. I found in a couple of places the placement of parts was vague and some of the assembly orders were weird. The biggest goof I found was in step 27, where there is part numbered ďnew.Ē I actually used the process of elimination by building the model and thus reducing the number of parts until I could find it! The right hand brace for the turret bustle rack is the part in question and can be found on the track sprue. Also, you will need to decide whether you are going to build the model with or without the ERA blocks on the hull and turret up front. There arenít too many changes that need to be made, but make your decision early and plan accordingly from there.
Assembly starts with the lower hull and since there are separate torsion bar arms, take extra care to make sure that the model is sitting flat and everything lines up properly to avoid headaches later on. I noticed that the side skirts hid pretty much the entire upper run of track and return rollers from view, so I omitted them from the assembly. The link and length track goes together pretty well and wrapped around the drive sprocket and idler wheel nicely. I found the use of polycaps on the road wheels a little strange. After all, with link and length track, it isnít as critical for fit purposes, nor would the model be motorized. It does, however, make painting much easier as the wheels can be removed and replaced easily. I used rubber bands to secure everything into place while the glue dried. I used Tamiya Extra thin cement for everything but the photo-etch, clear glass and antennas and the Tamiya glue worked fine. I did deviate from the instructions a bit as I wanted to paint the lower hull before putting them together, so the hulls were left as sub-assemblies until it was time to paint.
The upper hull goes together pretty well. However, a choice needs to be made as whether ERA will be fitted. I chose to do so and as such, there was a little more work to do. Be particularly careful with the brackets on the front plate, as it is very easy to cut them too short (ask me how I know this). I left the ERA plates off of the hull front until the model was primed. Also, the exhaust shroud is a little fiddly and should be left off until after priming, so the photo-etch screen can be added. Most of the rest of the lower hull is pretty straightforward, although the side-mounted ERA is fiddly and isnít a perfect fit. Thereís a lot of detail on the hull, so just take your time and work through it. Looking back, it may have been easier to leave the tools off until after painting.
The turret is particularly fiddly and the least forgiving, so take care and dry fit everything before committing to glue. The assembly of the gun mount is shown upside down in the instructions so take care and make sure everything is straight before assembling the turret. The add-on armor for the turret faces is not perfect so patience is needed in order to ensure the ERA sits right. Also, I could not get the flexible mantlet cover to sit right, so be cautious. The kit does give you antenna mounts, but no antennas or any other information about them (a note about the antenna length for each would be useful). I ended up using some of my capillary gas chromatograph column (0.5 mm diameter tempered glass tubing) for the antennas after final painting and weathering.
I must take a moment to applaud Kinetic for the exquisite molding of the main gun muzzle break which is a masterpiece in injection molding. In step 25 the armored glass enclosure of the commanderís hatch takes place. I found it difficult to assemble. I also needed to leave the armored glass out until after painting. Without mincing words, the glass fit badly. I donít know if it was my mistake or not, but a lot of sanding was necessary to get the panes to fit the frames. The pain continued on step 27 with the ďnewĒ part for the bustle rack. Also, the commanderís independent sight was a small kit in and of itself. I actually built it in pieces in, so I could preserve the glass in the sight. I painted the inside of the box silver and then painted the glass Tamiya clear red on one side and smoke on the other. Once it was closed up, you canít see a thing! Oh well. Step 33 has you cut bolts off of the sprue and add it to various spots on the model. I wonder why you need to do this as they arenít in inaccessible places. It perplexed me. I drilled out the flag mounts on the back of the gunnerís sight (part E42) and set up the TOW launcher in the travel position.
Painting and Finishing
With the model completely built, it was time to paint. For priming, I use cheap flat black in a rattle can from the local Home Depot. Once that was done, I airbrushed a custom blend of Vallejo paints that were mixed to look like dried earth onto the lower hull, tracks and running gear. Next, I mixed up a forest green colour from Vallejo paints and layered it on over the primer, to highlight the details and accentuate shadows. I built up a couple of layers by lightening the green with stone gray. I also painted the centres of the wheels to show mud on the tires that had not made it to the centers of the wheels. Once I was satisfied with the base coat, I let everything dry overnight. The next day, I mixed up a color that looked the part for the red-brown. I know it was Vallejo, but it was mixed by eye until it looked good. Looking at the photos, I think itís a little too red, cíest la vie! The black was a 50/50 mix of Vallejo black and German gray. While the red-brown was applied in stripes, I went for a squiggle look for the black. I think it looks pretty cool even if it is not an ďofficialĒ pattern. At that point I left the model to dry overnight again and the next day assembled the upper and lower hulls. I used Tamiya clear in the spray can in order to give a solid base for the decals.
There are virtually no discerning markings for the model on the decals provided, so I had to make my own. Then I found out why there are so few markings on the decal sheet: Bradleys donít carry too many to begin with! I did some searching online and found a vehicle assigned to the 2nd armored brigade combat teamís engineer battalion. So I made these up in MS Word and printed them on my Alps printer. I also made a set of chalked-on markings for the vehicle sides to look like loading markings as the vehicle I was patterning mine after was on maneuvers in South Korea. To ensure there was no silvering, I pulled out an old trick: diluted white glue. I brushed the solution under where the decals were to be placed. Once in place, I wicked the white glue solution away with a tissue. Then I applied Mr. Mark Softener over the top of the decal to soften it up enough to get over any details underneath. The model was then sealed with another coat of clear from Tamiya.
The model got a green filter to tie everything together made from sap green oil paint thinned with odorless Turpenoid. The Turpenoid dries to a dead flat finish as opposed to paint thinner/white spirit which dries to a semi-gloss finish. The model was left to dry overnight. The next day, I mixed up some white and brown oils into a dusty color and used it as a pin wash for all the details to represent a dusty vehicle. It took a couple of sessions to get everything done, but I was pleased with the results. With dark-colored paint jobs it can be difficult to come up with a good color to show the details. I hit on the idea of using a dust-colored pin wash when I built a black Libyan T-54 several years ago. With that, the model was sprayed with Armory figure flat to kill any gloss. It was allowed to dry overnight again. I dry-brushed the track pads with ďrubberĒ colored AK Interactive paint to show flaking mud and dirt. Finally, the lower hull got a light dusting of highly-diluted Tamiya XF-57 buff to simulate dust and lighten the overall look of the model.
It was at this point that the tools got painted. Looking back, I should have left them off and painted them off the model. I used the corner of the instructions to make sure I did not get any paint on the hull. The wooden parts of the tools were painted with AK Interactive ďold woodĒ and the metal parts were painted German gray. A brown wash was added to impart the appropriate wood tone. I painted the armored glass for the commanderís position with Tamiya clear green, one coat for each side. Then, using an X-Acto knife and a file, I attempted to get them to fit the frames. As I stated earlier, I am not sure if I made some kind of mistake or if the fit is bad, but I had a devil of a time getting the pieces in place. All of the vision blocks were painted with titanium silver paint. In addition, all of the lights were given a coat of titanium silver paint on their back sides. Once that was dry, I painted the vision blocks and reflectors with Tamiya clear orange. The lights and reflectors were glued into place with flat Modge-Podge. Unfortunately, there was a casualty during all of this work: the photo-etch gun sight mounted on the articulated arm on the mantlet. I pinged it off into another dimension and canít find it. So, my model will be without one for the foreseeable future.
Now, it sounds like Iíve been kinda harsh on this model. Truthfully, itís pretty good. Iíd give it 85 out of 100. There are some weird quirks, but nothing someone with a few kits under their belts canít handle. I expected this to be a quick build. It was not. If Tamiya represents the quick weekend build and Dragon the ultra complex one, this one is three-quarters of the way to Dragon, but without the egregiously horrible instructions! I donít know how this thing scales out, but it does look the part and Iím happy with the results. A careful, patient approach will result in a respectable model and I think we can all live with that.