The M109A7 is the latest version of the Army’s long serving 155mm self-propelled howitzer. First debuted in the 1960s to replace the M44. This newest version of the M109 sets out to upgrade many of the systems that allow a faster fire rate even with the increase in armor. There are also a number of parts that this vehicle now shares with the Bradley fighting vehicle allowing for cost savings in production and supply logistics. This new kit from Panda Hobby is the first kit of the newest member of the M109 family in 1/35 scale.
The kit is packaged in the usual Panda Hobby box with a colorful print of the vehicle in service. In the box are 5 sprues of tan plastic, 2 PE sheets, a clear sprue, a small decal sheet and a small plastic box containing all of the white metal track parts. There are also separate parts for the turret, rear turret, and hull parts. The moldings are well detailed and for the most part the parts are well molded. However, I did run into a number of issues with short shot parts and some instances of flash. I will call out the important ones as needed throughout the build. The instructions are typical for Panda Hobby, with glossy covers and paper insides. On the surface they look great with clear part locations and breakdowns but there are a number of issues throughout that I will highlight. The first is that there are two minor errors on the parts list page, there are 2 D sprues and a K sprue that are not mentioned.
The build starts normally by adding details to the hull bottom prior to attaching the top of the hull. For the most part I had no real issues in the first 3 steps of the build, except for one issue noted after painting. The clear lenses for the headlights, Part GP5 which fit into Part D1, these are too small for the opening in D1. I had to fill around the parts with white glue prior to painting the lenses. I skipped over steps 4-7 until much later in the build. I tend to work on the suspension after the base coat is applied.
In steps 8 and 9 detail is added to the exterior of the rear hull plate and to the interior of the rear door. I left out of this detail off until after step 10, this allows the detail to be protected if there are any fit issues. The fit of all the hull parts is pretty good, I didn’t have any major issues with the fit of the rear door or rear hull plate but under the sponsons above the tracks there were some very noticeable issues with the mating between the upper and lower hull. As this vehicle has no side skirts, I did feel that this needed to be filled and sanded.
Back to steps 8 through 10, this kit does allow display of the rear door open but as there is no interior for the vehicle. I chose to keep it shut and leave off the interior door details. I had no real issues with any of the parts used in these steps, except for the same issue with GP5. It was too small for the rear taillight parts as well. Steps 12 through 18 finish off the details needed for the main hull parts. In Step 12, PE13 didn’t fit great over the bolts that it is supposed to fit over so I removed them. When assembling the driver’s hatch there are a couple of issues to highlight. If you are careful with your glue, you can make the hatch moveable. I used this to make painting easier. Also, here is the first of the errors in the instructions. In the window for the subassembly for the hatch there is a missing part that is not displayed or called out, Part C76. By adding this part you can model the hatch open.
Steps 13 and 14 add a ton of detail to the upper deck of the hull. I left most of these parts off until after painting. They are tiny and well molded and I didn’t want to lose them during handling. I also left the replacement tracks and the side skirt parts off to allow for easier painting. Next up is the gun lock and there are two ways to assemble this, locked or in travel position. I chose locked for firing. I had some issues with the strength of the parts that attach the lock to the hull. It is difficult to keep these parts straight during assembly, so I attached them to the hull first and allowed them to dry prior to attaching part C26. In step 17, Part C63 had some short shot pins that made it difficult to work with. Once I finished with this step I left the assembly off of the tank until after final painting.
Next I started the turret assembly with step 32, the parts for the gun mantlet fit pretty well but there are no poly caps, so if you want to display the vehicle in firing mode you will need to glue Part E34 in place. The gun barrel is too heavy to stay elevated otherwise. The base of the turret fits pretty well but did require a little filler to hide some small issues. In Step 35, Part C12 is glass on the real vehicle so make sure to paint the center silver at the end of the build. The gun barrel is well detailed but it is molded in two halves, and did require a little filler and sanding to hide the mold seems. I had no real issues with the rest of the parts in steps 35-40.
Moving on to the assembly of the rear part of the turret. This is molded in only two parts, a large box, B2, and the lid. The fit of these parts to each other and to the main turret was fairly good, it needed a little filler but nothing serious. I left most of the details from steps 20 and 21 off until after final assembly. Steps 22 and 23 cover the assembly of the turret baskets and uses most of the photo etch supplied with the kit. I built these as separate subassemblies and installed them after final painting. The only issue I had with these steps was that Parts E11 and E12 have large sink marks on the inside that are a little difficult to deal with.
In Step 25 there is another error with the instructions. They show drilling holes for two different types of coaxial guns but there is actually a third option for the robotic 50 caliber gun mount. You will have to drill holes for it in a different location and the vehicle can only mount one of the three options. I left all of the bolts, grab handles and tools off of the turret from steps 24 through 30 until after final painting. These steps add a lot of external details and for the most part these steps don’t have any major issues.
There are a couple of things I do need to mention. In Step 28, there are no location holes for Parts C91 on Part E35 and C91 is small so be careful. Part E26 fits pretty well to the turret but it has two unfortunate sink marks that will need to be removed. There are also issues with the assembly of the light in step 29. First, there is an error in the instructions for a missing part, GP3 is the clear lens that needs to be added to the subassembly. Also, the interior of the light will need to be painted and there are no call outs. Having built Paladins before I knew that the interior of the light will need to be silver and E29 needs to be white with a silver lens on top. Lastly, Parts E27 and E28 had some fit issues and needed a fair amount of filler. I had trouble removing the line between the parts.
The last assembly before returning to the suspension is for the robotic 50 caliber gun mount. First there is an instructions error in step 43, Part K32 is mislabeled as K42 and while K42 is shown as being used it is not called out. In Step 45 the attachment location of the gun cameras is a little vague and in step 47 the ammo box needed some sanding to hide a seam. Also, it did not fit great with the rest of the assembly. Lastly, the parts of the base used in step 50 needed a little work to hide some seams.
Finally, finishing the assembly with the tracks and the suspension. The drive sprocket and idler wheel are pretty standard and had no issues with assembly. In final assembly while I was attaching the tracks it seemed like the guide teeth on the drive sprockets were a little off, so just make sure that the teeth match before the glue dries. The wheels and tires are molded separately, for ease of painting. The wheels are well molded but the tires were a little short shot. They needed some sanding for clean-up but nothing too serious. I left the trailing arms until after final painting, this let me use the wheels to set the proper suspension height as there is a little play in the mounting position of the trailing arms.
The white metal tracks are the focal point of this release and they are defiantly worth it. Each link is made up of a molded link, a separate guide horn, and the track pin. The separate guide horns make assembly a little tedious as 85 links are required per side, meaning 170 guide horns need to be carefully attached. In order to allow the tacks to move I recommend only glueing in the center of the track link and you will need to be careful as they are easy to knock off during handling. There is a little flash on the track links that makes some of the pins difficult to install completely. The 85 links required per side seems to fit perfectly with the correct track sag. I ended up painting the tracks with several coats of Tamiya NATO black and had no issues with paint adhesion after washing the tracks in white vinegar.
The painting guide provides information on two vehicles, there is no information on the differences between them except that one has the robotic 50 caliber gun mount and one has the regular 50 caliber gun mount. The instructions call out C19 from Gunze Sangyo for the overall color, but I used the acrylic Model Master US Sand for modern US vehicles. After the painting was complete, details and suspension were added I worked on the tools. I used all Tamiya paints to paint the tools and had no issues except with the Jerry cans. The fit of the two halves of the Jerry cans was pretty rough they all required multiple rounds of filling and sanding to correct the issues.
The last step before installing the finished tracks was to decal the vehicle. I sealed the kit with a heavy gloss coat from Alcad. The decals were well printed and easy to work with. Unfortunately, after the decals had a chance to dry it turned out that they had silvered even over the gloss coat. The best way I found to work with these decals is to place them directly into a puddle of Future and to roll a Q-tip over the decal. This forces out all the air and seemed to correct most of the issues.
There are also some errors in the painting guide for decals and their locations. There are several places where decal 8 is shown but not called out. On the right side where the tools are located the locations are all wrong, 18 needs to go where 17 is shown. Decal 17 needs to go where 16 is shown and 19 needs to where 18 is shown. They are supposed to match the tool in the location, but the guide has them all over the place. The last thing prior to completion is to add the tracks. As there are no side skirts or return rollers threading the tracks in was pretty easy. I had some trouble fitting them around the sprockets, but this may have been due to a slight misalignment of the guide teeth.
This is an interesting kit, overall a great kit and will build up to an impressive version of the vehicle. The build isn’t complicated but the errors in the instructions and the issues with the molding make the build more difficult than it needs to be. Due to the minor issues with this kit I can’t recommend it to a beginner. But if you’ve had a few kits under your belt and don’t mind a little troubleshooting this kit is definitely worth it. Also, I love the decision to include white metal tracks as standard, these are usually pretty high-priced upgrade for an armor kit. They defiantly make this re-release worth it and I hope more companies follow this example. I would definitely recommend this kit to anyone that is interested in modern US military vehicles or self-propelled artillery.
My thanks to Panda Models and IMPS for giving me the opportunity to review this kit.