Réf : Tamiya #35326

Since its entry into service with the US Army in the 80s, M1 Abrams tank went through a number of upgrade programs. Like its predecessors, the M1A2 has been modernized through the SEP (system enhancement package) program from 2001. The SEP program intended to digitize the MBT. In this purpose, the M1A2 was fitted with electronic devices comprising color displays, digital terrain map system, Force XXI Battle Command and Below (FBCB2), Enhanced Position/Location Reporting System (EPLRS) and Global Positioning System.

The losses suffered by Abrams tanks during the occupation of Iraq, in particular in urban areas, led the US Army to develop the TUSK (Tank Urban Survival Kit) program. The TUSK I provides a belly armor against mines, a protected seat for the driver, ARAT (Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles) for the side skirts and a shield for the loader. The fire power was also improved with the following equipment: Counter Sniper/Anti-Material Mount (CSA-MM) M2 heavy machine gun, commander Remote Thermal Sight (RTS), Loader's Thermal Weapon Sight (LTWS).

Later, the TUSK II program improved the protection with new reactive armor tiles (ARAT II) fitted to the turret sides and in addition to the skirts tiles. From now on, the commander is also protected by a 360° shield.

The M1A2 SEP TUSK II has a crew of 4 and mounts a 120 mm M256 gun, two 0.50 cal MG and two 7.62 mm MG. It also has two smoke-grenades dischargers.

The Content

The kit allows to choose between the TUSK I and the TUSK II versions. Issued in the usual white box, it comprises a lower hull, 9 sand plastic sprues, 1 clear sprue, a bit of mesh, a sheet of clear film, 20 or so polycaps, a sheet of decals, an instruction booklet and a historical information sheet. All the sprues come in sealed plastic bags.

The level of detail and the molding quality are up to the brand standard. Some ill-placed ejection pin marks are to be filled. The fit is perfect too. If some sprues come from old kit references, Tamiya added a new upper hull and slightly modified the lower hull. However, the roadwheels arms are still molded solid with the hull.

The 16-page instruction booklet give clear instructions in four languages (Japanese, English, German and French). The decals sheet allows to represent two TUSK I tanks and only one TUSK II. Two figures are also included but the carving let to be  desired and some nasty gaps must be filled.

The Build

The Hull

The lower hull in covered by 4 steps. The vinyl tracks are not fitted yet. The mud evacuation holes in the sprockets are drilled out.

The upper hull is modified as compared to the previous Tamiya references. Before gluing the few parts, I added the anti-slip coating by applying  some Surfacer 500 with a brush. Then it needs to be tapped with a hard brush to give it the desired texture.
The shape of the protections of the vision blocks of the driver hatch is fixed but Tamiya didn't modify the base of the side vision blocks. A piece of plastic card is added to fill the gap between each side vision block and the middle one. The clear film can't be used as one side of the side vision blocks remains visible. The vision blocks are thus made of plastic card.
The headlights are a bit loose in their position. The towing bar is not yet installed.

The side skirts are brand new and show the mounting brackets for the ARAT tiles. To facilitate the fitting of the ARAT II tiles, it is advised to put the protections H6 at the end. The skirts will be glued only when the running gear is painted and weathered.

The Turret

The build starts by drilling out the positioning holes for the new TUSK parts. Like the upper hull, the turret roof gets the anti-slip coating.
Tamiya give the 120 mm gun breech but as it is the only part to represent the interior, it is put aside. The ejection pin marks in the loader's protection L21 must be filled.

The bustle baskets are fitted. The main basket supports J4 and J5 also show ejection pin marks. The mesh is cut according to the template issued by Tamiya. To secure the mesh during the cutting, it is fixed to some mask tape on which the templates are reproduced.

Then you can deal with the TUSK parts. All the armored windows come as clear parts. We need to mask them prior to gluing them with some white glue. Before that, the edgeways must be painted.
The loader's thermal sight has a molding line to be removed. When done, the sight lens is polished with tooth paste.
The commander MG bracket is molded solid. To give it a more lifelike aspect, I modified the MG position. For this, it is first necessary to cut the bracket locks P6 and then glue them in the chosen location. Then the right part of the shield can be installed.
The back of the searchlight beside the gun mantlet MG is hollow. It must be filled before putting it in place.
The build ends with the turret reactive armor tiles.

Some accessories in the kit enable to fill the baskets as well as a cooler and some printed drink boxes.

The Paint

Tamiya proposes only one decoration for a TUSK II tank belonging to the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. Except some service stencils, there is no other decals. Even the usual bumper numbers are absent.

The base shade if Tamiya XF-57 Buff. The weathering is done with several pigment shades from various brands. In some areas, the pigments are drawn downward to represent the usual rain marks. On the bottom of the the hull a darker shade of sand is sprayed.