Like many Russian AFVs, the BMP-3 has been upgraded recently with extensive Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) and slat armour. As a result it looks as though itís carrying all its worldly goods around in boxes while it looks for somewhere new to live. Apparently the full kit was ordered by the United Arab Emirates, who then decided not to use it because it compromised their BMP-3sí amphibious capability. Exactly who were they expecting to use them against, I wonder ... ?
Trumpeter have released a number of BMP-3 kits lately, starting with the early version reviewed here
. That range includes an up-armoured version, kit no. 00365, although it seems to have Russian markings rather than UAE Ė possibly a prototype. Voyagerís two PE sets are intended for that kit.
Letís deal first with what youíre meant to do with them. The Trumpeter kit offers a full set of armour enhancements: ERA boxes for the hull, slats for the engines areas and the rear of the turret, and ERA with rubber flaps for the turret front. To achieve this with the Voyager sets you must get both of them. Set 53403
covers the engine areas and the turret; set 35404
covers the rest of the hull. If you buy only one set, youíll have only a partial upgrade. However, both offer much more than just the extra armour. Set 35403 also contains an extensive exterior detail set, which is available separately as set 35371; Set 35404 includes parts for a different trim vane, available as 35372. So that makes them pretty comprehensive, and possibly a bargain (itís hard to know for sure). And it does mean that you donít have to buy these sets if all you want is the exterior improvements.
Voyager does some other upgrades for the BMP-3 too. I mention this now for two reasons. One, the frets in 35403 and 35404 clearly form part of a larger series; and two, because one of them matters for the turret section.
So, what do you get? Letís start with 35403. It contains six relatively small brass frets, four resin cable ends, two resin tow hooks, two turned brass antenna mounts, two lengths of copper cable, a lengths of steel wire, and two lengths of round-section plastic rod. The PE comes to a total of something like 1021 parts. I think Ė counting them became a little eye-watering, since 130 of them are absolutely minuscule bolt-heads and another 52 are tiny retaining hooks. In most cases you get just enough parts for the job, only a few having one or two spares. This excludes those bolt-heads Ė so far as I can tell, you need only 32 of them, and even if Iíve miscounted from the instructions, there must be an awful lot on there that are redundant. At the same time there seem to be a number of parts that donít appear on the instructions at all.
These parts apply to just about every part of the BMPís upper hull and turret. Just a few examples: a new liner for the commanderís hatch, vision blocks for most crew positions, fully pivoting mounts for the numerous searchlights, any number of hinges for hatches, hugely improved intake and exhaust grilles, mirrors, and even a whole new head for the spade. The slat armour is, of course, fantastically complicated. Trumpeter gives you five parts for each engine section; those in the Voyager set comprise 45 parts on one side and 47 on the other. On the turret, the rear slats are similar: nine kit parts are replaced by 54 brass ones. And, of course, the finesse is much greater. The downside of this you can probably predict: a great deal of fiddly folding, with the permanent risk of something getting out of alignment, although the slats themselves are at least completely flat. At the front of the turret, a few Trumpeter parts are retained: the armour blocks from the kit are used to mount nine-part rubber sections that each replace a single kit part. You have to bend the brass to shape. While it will be finer than the kit parts, I suspect it may be too fine; and, even under paint, thereís something too stiff about brass to allow it to pass for rubber.
Now the tricky bits. A lot of hinges and pivots need you to slice bits off the wire or plastic rod. No lengths are given. Essentially, you have to measure the brass parts by eye or micrometer and cut off just enough to fit. Well, good luck with that, and with finding enough wire or rod to work with. For instance, I estimate you need to get 23 hinges plus 22 longer parts out of two inches of 0.5mm rod. Luckily, 0.5mm rod is fairly easy to come by. But it does make you wonder why they bothered including any at all Ė or why, for the price, they couldnít have included more. A further problem is that at two points youíre expected to scratch-build small parts. One is a part-round hinge pivot, which should be reasonably straightforward. But the other is a new co-axial machine-gun barrel, for which Voyager gives no help whatever with dimensions. They do say you can use another of their upgrades, but the trick then is to find it Ė even their own website doesnít appear to list it. And of course you need to pay for it as well.
A common feature of the hinge parts is, perhaps, inevitable. Tabs on the plates need to be curled up to form the loops through which hinge-pins pass. If you can bend brass into a neat circle 0.3mm across, youíll love this set.
The instructions are an ergonomic slum. It took me two hours just to read through them and work out where everything went and how many parts each assembly would need. Even now Iím not sure about some of them. But, once youíve deciphered it all, they are at least mostly good at placing parts where they need to go on the kit.
Now for set 35404. The first thing you notice is how heavy it is. This is because itís made up of 17 brass frets, plus another couple of lengths of rod and wire. The ERA blocks come in three sizes: large ones for the sides, medium ones for the bow, and small ones that hang beneath most of the large ones. One pattern of fret (six supplied) is mostly taken up with the larger blocks; another (ten supplied) carries the other two sizes. Both also carry a number of other details. The 17th fret is the trim vane parts mentioned earlier.
The ERA is made by folding flat etch into boxes, which may take you all the way back to primary school. The cunning bit is that each box has tiny slots let into it, into which you insert PE hinge plates, so that all the parts are accurately articulated to each other. This will be another test of your precision folding ability, but luckily there are plenty of spares. Talking of which, this set goes absolutely bananas for redundancy. There are (I think!) 1459 parts, but 480 are more bolt-heads, and if you manage to lose none of those as you go, youíll have well over 300 left over. Compare that with the other size of bolt-head, of which you get 320 but precisely no spares.
The finesse of the ERA blocks isnít really the point here, although the hinges are very neat. The real advantage over the kit is that each one is separate. Trumpeter have done a pretty good job and with suitable painting, their parts will come out well. But they supply only 34 parts. Every one of the parts in this set is dedicated to replacing them and will give you 74 separate blocks. Even the frames the blocks hang on are improved: one PE part each in the kit, up to 15 in the Voyager set. You may be thinking, what ever is the point of that? Well, a nice touch is that you can lift the ERA blocks up individually and brace them, allowing the frames to be seen up against the sides of the hull. Yíknow, if you like that sort of thing.
Of course, this too will put a premium on your skills with PE. Few photos of the BMP-3 show the ERA blocks looking untidy and they are, of course, much more solid than little bits of brass. Fold one up wrong, or get the hinges off a little, and it will show up horribly. And you get very few spare blocks.
The problems over the supplied wire and rod are even more acute here. My count is 114 sections of 0.5mm plastic out of a total of four inches, and 90 sections of 0.3mm wire out of four inches. Plus, again, you have to measure against the PE parts. The instructions are better, and although there is one glaring error, itís an easy one to spot and put right. But these are relatively minor points.
These are brilliantly detailed sets that will hugely enhance your BMP-3. I can think of very little thatís missed out (new covers for the hydro-jets might have been nice, though). If youíre reading this, thereís a good chance that you already know how to deal with photo-etch and have the skill and the patience to deal with the literally hundreds of diminutive parts. If you can do that, the scrappy instructions should be a doddle. Iím a little unhappy that the full armour upgrade is presented as two sets, with the false implication that adding only one would be correct. And itís a little deflating to realise that, even if you spend months painstakingly adding all this detail to your kit, thereís yet more that could be added. But thatís only because Voyager have really gone to town on the BMP-3 and done it proud.
One small note of caution. If you have the original BMP-3 (00364) or the UAE version (01531), and possibly if you get the forthcoming production version (01528), you wonít be able to use these sets to give them the armour upgrade. This is because you need Sprue F from the Trumpeter range, even though you throw most of it away. Only 00365 has it, I believe.