The M3A3 is the cavalry variant of the
Bradley infantry fighting vehicle. It differs from the latter by a lower number
of seats for the dismounting crew and an increased number of TOW antitank
missiles. Since its entry in service in 1981, the M3 has undergone a number of
evolutions in particular to improve its protection. Those evolutions started in
1986 with the entry in service of the TOW 2 missile and the installation of an
improved NBC system. Externally, the removal of the spare smoke grenade box on
the turret was the only feature which helped distinguish a M3 from a M3A1
The M3A2 version was improved with steel armored side skirts which protected the vehicle sides against 30 mm rounds. The weight increase required the installation of a new 600HP VTA-903 engine.
The lessons learned from the first Gulf War generated the implementation of the following modifications on the Bradley: a laser rangefinder, a tactical navigation system incorporating a GPS, and a command and information system Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). Thermal cameras were also added.
Since 1994, the M3A2 were upgraded by FMC Corporation. The most noticeable upgrade is the commander independent thermal viewer installed on the turret roof. The M3A3 is also equipped with a driver vision enhancer, a new TOW reloading hatch, a new laser rangefinder and an improved Bradley acquisition system (IBAS).
The increasing engagements in urban areas during the operation Iraqi Freedom led the US Army to develop a survivability kit for the Bradley (Bradley Urban Survivability Kit, BUSK). This kit includes improved seats for the crew, a window protection for the commander station, and an improved fire extinguisher system. The M3A3 is also fitted with ERA blocks on the sides and the front glacis.
The M3A3 is armed with a M242 Bushmaster 25 mm automatic cannon, a M240C 7.62 mm coaxial machine-gun and a two-tube TOW launcher. It has a crew of 5 comprising a driver, a vehicle commander, a gunner and two scouts.
The M3A3 has first been committed within the 4th Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Meng has first issued the M2A3 with a full interior before issuing the M3A3. This time, the interior is a separate set which helps reduce the cost.
The kit comes in a large and sturdy cardboard box. It comprises 12 beige plastic sprues, 2 clear parts sprues, 1 upper hull, 1 lower hull, 2 soft vinyl parts, 8 metal tubes, 188 individual track links, 2 sheets of photoetched parts, 1 set of polycaps and 1 sheet of decals. The 28-page instructions booklet presents the history of the Bradley and a brief biography of general Bradley. The instructions are divided in 42 steps. The drawings are clear. The page for the painting is in color and presents two decorations for vehicles stationed in the continental US.
The cast is excellent as well as the level of details. There are some molding lines to clean on some parts but there is no flash and the ejection pin marks are well placed.
Meng starts with the
running gear and the working suspension. These 5 steps come with no difficulty.
The assembly of the hull requires to perfectly fit the ramp locking hooks. The
various armor plates on the hull are easy to install.
At step 10, the PE engine grille needed to be trimmed near the turret.
At step 11, you have to bend the PE DVE protection but there is no bending mark. The driver vision blocks are not installed. Like the other ones, they will be installed after the painting.
At step 13, the inner face of the engine access hatch needed to be sanded as it didn't fit.
At step 14, the front positioning pin of part E12 must be eliminated as it doesn't align with the hole on the hull.
The rest of the build is not an issue. The tracks are assembled and set apart. Meng have you assemble 80 links but it gives a too pronounced sagging. I removed one link which generated some tension to the working suspension.
At this stage, the running gear and the bottom of the hull are painted and slightly weathered. Then the skirts and the ERA blocks can be fitted. On the ERA blocks, the molding lines must be thoroughly cleaned.
The assembly of the
turret is easy and gives several options as seen later. All the vision blocks
are kept apart because even when the turret is assembled, it remains easy to
install them which facilitates the painting.
The coaxial MG ammo feed chute is glued with some CA glue.
At step 30, you can choose between 3 smoke-grenade launchers configurations (loaded, empty or with a cap). At step 35, you have to bend the frame of the commander protection. The frame of the inner window does not fit easily and blank tests are necessary.
At step 37, 2 antenna bases are replaced by Aber turned brass bases.
At step 39, Meng gives the option of mounting the TOW launcher in the transport or fire position.
To complete the stowage basket, Meng allows to choose between empty or full ammo box brackets.
The turret assembly ends with the fitting of the 25 mm cannon barrel and its hollowed flash suppressor.
The base color is AK 122 OIF US
vehicle base color. It is really fluid and requires to be sprayed in several
layers. It presents a satin look which helps the use of decals without applying
gloss varnish. The metal parts are painted XF-84 Dark Iron.
Before starting the weathering, the vision blocks are installed. Beforehand their inner faces have been painted with some X-26 Clear Orange and their locations have been painted in flat black.
The weathering begins with a wash of AK121 Wash OIF US modern vehicles. This is a long step given the number of rivets, bolt heads and panel lines. Some scratches are made on the side armored blocks with some XF-64 Red Brown.
Then several veils of XF-52 Flat Earth and XF-57 Buff are sprayed with more insistence on the lower parts of the vehicle. Some fine sand is deposited mainly on the roadwheels. To finish, some streaking are made with AK 123 OIF Streaking Effects.