by: Keith Middleton [ ]
Following the success of the Western armored forces in Operation Desert Storm, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (“PLA”) embarked on a major effort to develop and build a main battle tank competitive with Western designs such as the Abrams and Challenger 2. The result of that effort is the ZTZ 99 series of tanks which first entered service in 2001. Because of the high per unit cost, the PLA built only a small number, approximately 200 tanks, which currently equip two armored regiments.
This series of Chinese main battle tanks has surprisingly become the latest subject of competition between model kit manufacturers. This kit represents a ZTZ-99A1, the second iteration in the 99 series. When looking at this tank, it is immediately obvious this tank is the result of both western and Russian/Soviet design influences.
The kit arrives in a very large box adorned with striking box art of a ZTZ-99A1 on parade wearing digital camouflage in rather bright colors. The box holds 15 sprues of plastic parts including 1 sprue of clear parts and 7, count em, 7 sprues of parts for the individual link tracks. The box also holds a separate lower hull tub and upper turret half, two frets of photo-etch parts, a small length of string, and 2 sheets of decals. Finally, there is a 15-page instruction booklet.
The instructions consist of line drawings printed on glossy paper. The instructions call for the model to be built in 20 steps starting with the lower hull and then proceeding up to the turret. There are a lot of parts, but the instructions are well laid out and appear less busy than the instructions found in other manufacturers’ kits (possibly the result that this kit only provides the option to build a single version of this tank?).
There are instructions and markings for two different vehicles. The first is a 99A1 from a Sino-Russian Union Counter Terrorism Military Exercise: Peace Mission 2009. This vehicle wears a hard edge camouflage of light green, dark green, and sand yellow. The second is a 99A1 in digital camouflage of olive green, sand yellow, light green, and dark green from the 60th anniversary China National Day Parade. The painting instructions are keyed to Gunze Sangyo, Hobby Color, Humbrol, and Tamiya paints.
The parts for the hull, suspension and tracks are well-molded with no visible flash. While there are mold extraction marks on some parts, they appear to only be in locations that will not be visible once the model is assembled. The kit comes with individual torsion bars, floating suspension, and workable individual link tracks.
As mentioned, there are 7 sprues of parts for the tracks. The instructions indicate there are 82 links per side and 5 parts per link. Knowing readers would be curious about the construction of these tracks, I decided to build a small run for the review. In about 20 minutes I built a run of 4 links (I should note I have a great deal of experience with Dragon individual link tracks, but have never before tried any of the available aftermarket tracks).
As can be seen in the accompanying images, the run is workable. The design and fit of the parts is very good and the actual assembly was straightforward. The most time consuming aspect of the process is removing the parts from the sprue. The track pins are quite fragile and the attachment points on all of the parts are substantial, which means lots of careful sanding. Considering it took 20 minutes to assemble 4 links, it is going to take a substantial amount of time to assemble 2 runs consisting of 82 links each.
Hull and turret
The upper hull parts are finely rendered with good detail. The fenders have beveled edges but still appear overly thick. It’s on the upper hull that you will use the photo-etch parts: engine screens and straps for the external fuel tanks. The turret comes in 2 parts and a quick test revealed no gaps. The 125 mm main gun comes in two halves (no metal barrel is included) so there will be a seam to be dealt with. The only internal detail provided in the entire kit is found on the internal sides of the crew hatches.
Overall, a very nice kit of an unusual subject.