Tuesday, April 10

In-Boxed: PLA Main Battle Tank ZTZ96B from MENG Models

Clayton has Meng's new 35th scale Main Battle tank of the PLA on his workbench, ready to carve in to - He paused to show us what is inside the colourful box before he got to building the kit. See what's inside this kit in his review...
In-Boxed: PLA Main Battle Tank ZTZ96B. 
From MENG Models
Product Code# TS-034
1/35th scale
Product Link on the Meng Website
Price: ¥5,440/ $53.12 USD/ €43.15 at Hobbylink Japan
There is something really interesting about modern Chinese armour. In the past, its close ties to the Soviet machinery it essentially copied were there for all to see. But as China embraced the Western technologies and ideas, their tank designs began to take on a look of their own. 

For those of you who have seen some of my builds in the past, I am sure you are aware of my masochistic ways and the joy I derive from complex, straight edge masking projects. It all started with the Berlin Brigade Chieftain, and then the Estonian MKV, and so on…So, from the start, the idea of painting some of these digital camouflage schemes seen in the PLA really appealed to me. Hence, when the opportunity arose to take a look at this new ZTZ96B from Meng, I grabbed it with both hands. 

But to start, a little bit of history adapted from the notes in the instruction booklet. 

PLA Main Battle Tank ZTZ96B in real life.

The ZTZ96 main battle tanks in service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are a very typical weapon developed by China. The original ZTZ96 MBT was a second-generation tank based on the ZTZ80 MBT. It was born in the difficult time for the Chinese defence industry when China’s reform and opening up process started. The tank was equipped with a 125mm high-pressure tank gun developed with Western technology. It owned the standard firepower of the third generation MBTs, however, its’ chassis didn’t have enough improvements when compared to the chassis of the ZTZ80 or even earlier ZTZ69 tank. The small engine bay hindered the installation of a high-power engine. The weak maneuverability troubled the Type 96 tanks for a long time. 
Just like other not-so-advanced PLA weapons, the ZTZ96 was reborn in the new ear. As its economy became much stronger, China started to modernize its existing equipment. The ZTZ96B is the latest variant of the ZTZ96 tanks. It has received a new engine and a hydraulic transmission developed by the China North Engine Research Institute, which has greatly enhanced its maneuverability. The Chinese defence industry designers and engineers managed to increase the power of the new engine and limit its size so as to make sure it could be installed in the small engine bay. The hydraulic transmission makes the driving process smooth and steady. Hydraulic transmissions have been widely used in the Western tanks for decades. In the Tank Biathlon held in Russia, the ZTZ96B equipped with the hydraulic transmission performed better than the Russian T-72B3 in aspects like driving quality and marching fire.

In terms of firepower, thanks to the 125mm high-pressure gun, the autoloader and the advanced Armour-piercing, fin stabilized discarding-sabot and multipurpose rounds, the ZTZ96B is as fatal as third generation MBTs. As for the protection, additional arrow shaped modular armour similar to the ZTZ99A is installed on the front turret. The ZTZ96B’s turret sides and chassis are covered by the FY4 Explosive Reactive Armour. The ZTZ96B’s protection is much better than common second generation MBTs and is as good as the third-generation ones. With such upgrades, the ZTZ96 which was once a second-generation tank can now compete with most third generation MBTs.

The type test of the ZTZ96B started in the second half of 2016 with the view to enter military service in the second half of 2017. Before that actually happened, the tank took park in the Tank Biathlon in 2016 and 2017. In the rigorous competition environment, the ZTZ96B did well and was ranked second and third respectively. It’s amazing straight-line acceleration in competition with the T-72, it is running at full speed after losing one road wheel and marching fire with great precision all leave people a deep impression. It is believed the reasonably priced but qualified tank will enter military service with the PLA to fill the gap between the ZTZ99A and the new light main battle tanks. 

The kit from Meng.
As a window into this kit's make up before I show you the part, I thought that this video released by Meng showing the kit's assembly in CAD form would be helpful...
The feature set of this tank comes in three flavours, again, from the Meng Website to give you a little more idea of the differences you can make from the one box.
What’s in the Box? 
The kit I received came presented in this unique looking sleeve. I’m unsure if this is a special packaging or if this is going to be an ongoing thing for this kit. It is safe to say though, that it would definitely stand out sitting on the shelf.

Thank you to Mil Chua for translating the sleeve for me as reading - "PRC Liberation Army ZTZ96B Main Battle Tank." – I guess I was expecting nothing less. 

After removing the sleeve, a more familiar looking kit boxing is revealed. That said, the majority of the copy is in Chinese, so the teasers on the box are left to my English-speaking imagination.
Colour codes are called out on the side of the box noting Meng colour codes. This would cause me a little grief down the track as I found identifying these code a little difficult. 
The instruction booklet is clearly catered to the Chinese market.
Upon opening the page though, we are greeted with the other translations. 
The instructions are presented in clear, easy to follow steps. There are only 30 steps in total, and they all seem to be quite simple in nature. 
The kit comes with 5 suggested schemes for the tank, although the decal sheet provided gives you the option to expand on that if you wish. 
The kit comes with a small decal set that allows you to mix things up as numbers 0-9 are provided.
Here you see the poly caps for the wheels and the moulded sleeves for the barrel and the and ammo belt for the machine gun.  The metal springs are for the workable suspension.
A small etch fret is included. 
The turret section.
The moulding has a nice antislip texture to it. 
The top section of the tank. Hatches and handles are all moulded into this single piece. Some will appreciate that, others will be looking for a few more posable parts… I’ll let you be the judge.
Detail is still reasonable, and in the scheme of things will still present well once painted. 
The anti-slip texture is present and some respectable detail on the front section. 
The underside of the model has a reasonable level of detail, although I guess this is part of the model that rarely sees the light of day. 
Tracks are supplied in the flexible, rubber band style, however, the guide horns are needing to be attached to the tracks as part of the assembly. 
Sprue D contains the underside of the turret, hatches and various bits and pieces. 
The detail in the pieces is very good. 
Sprue E houses the reactive armour on the sides of the turret baskets and the rear section of the model.  
The barrel is moulded in 2 halves.
Rear engine grilles have the photo etch supplied to cover them
 The barrel is in two parts split down the centre vertically
Sprue G houses the clear parts of the model - periscopes and lights, all moulded fairly clearly. 
Sprue H. The model comes with a number of different versions of the tank, with one of the key visual differences between them being the side guards.  Here you see a couple of the options.
In closer detail...
..And a couple of the other options on Sprue C
And a little closer...
There are 4 sets of Sprue A and as you can see they have the wheels and the running gear. The outside edges of the frets contain the guide horns for the tracks. 
There is a little clean up required around come off the wheel pieces. Also, note the guide horns on the sprue edges. It is designed to be broken off into fours, stuck to the tracks and then clipped away. All going to plan they should all sit in place.
2 sets of Sprue B with the external tanks for one of the versions on offer as well as the drive wheels.
Again, a little closer for a better look.
The turret mounted machine gun comes on its own sprue. Detail looks reasonable to my eye. 
When it comes to what I think about the kit? The best review is a build review - so I will let you know in my next article when I build it. Then after that, I will be making some of my special paint masks to treat this tank in the digital schemes that it is seen in in the field, so stay tuned...

Clayton Ockerby

Thanks to Meng Models for sending Clayton this kit to review and make up for you all.