by: Gino P. Quintiliani [ ]
The M109 is an American 155 mm turreted self-propelled howitzer, first introduced in the early 1960s to replace the M44. The M109 has a crew of four: the section chief/commander, the driver, the gunner, and the ammunition handler/loader. The chief or gunner aims the cannon left or right (deflection) and up and down (quadrant). The M109 family is the most common Western indirect-fire support weapon of maneuver brigades of armored and mechanized infantry divisions. It has been used in all US conflicts since Vietnam and by many other nationsí armies around the world. It has been upgraded a number of times, most recently to the M109A7.
The newest M109 version for U.S. service is the M109A7 Paladin which began fielding in late 2018. It was formerly known as the M109A6 Paladin Integrated Management (PIM). The M109A7 took the existing M109A6 turret and mounted it on an all-new design hull that shares common components with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle such as the engine, transmission, running gear, and tracks. This creates commonality with other systems and maximizes cost-savings in production, parts inventory, and maintenance personnel. The new design also gives the Paladin the needed speed to keep up with the current Bradley and Abrams on the battlefield. The Army plans to upgrade 689 Paladins to A7-standard.
Panda has provided a very nice, finely detailed model of the M109A7 Paladin Howitzer. The kit comes on seven sprues of tan plastic, one clear parts sprue, a sprue with the upper and lower hull, a separate upper turret shell, a separate ammo compartment shell, two PE frets, a clear box which holds about 175 pieces of metal track along with a bunch of center guide teeth and track pins, a length of wire rope, and a small decal sheet. Also included is one resin figure holding a n artillery round (more on him later). This is all packed in a sturdy box along with a 20 page instruction booklet and a two-sided color sheet showing markings and painting directions. There is no visible flash and the parts are all molded well with average attachment points that will not be an issue when building. The instructions are laid out well and build the model across a total of 53 steps. Most of the assembly is straight-forward without issues. There are a few omissions and corrections to be made with the instructions though, which I will point out as I build it.
Steps 1-18 focus on the lower hull.
Step 1 starts with the final drives and a couple of smaller suspension parts.
Step 2 focuses on the front of the lower hull by adding the mud flaps (which I left off until after painting), lights, tow hooks, and very nicely done folding steps.
Step 3 mates the upper and lower hulls.
Steps 4 through 7 deals with building the drive train including the road wheels, which come in two separate pieces so you can accurately represent the undercut around the inner part of the wheel. You also build the sprockets and idler wheel. These are all added to the roadwheel arms and attached to the hull. I deviated a little in the build sequence by attaching the roadwheel arms to the hull first so they could all be leveled in the correct position. To get the correct height, I taped a 1/8 thick file to the underside and set the arms all on the bench top as I glued them down. I let them dry in this position before adding the roadwheels, which I will do after painting. Of note, in step 5 I left the rear idler mounts (parts D12) off until I add the track so tension can be adjusted since they are metal tracks that do not stretch.
Steps 8-10 add details to the rear plate and rear door. Again, I deviated from the sequence by gluing the rear plate (C77) to the back of the hull before adding details to it. This just seems like a better way to do it to me so I am not trying to add details to the rear plate and hold onto it at the same time. With my luck, I will invariably knock something off.
Step 8 adds smaller items to the rear plate such as lights, mud flaps, tow hooks and a couple oddment boxes.
Step 9 adds details to the rear door. It is in two parts; outside and inside. I noted a couple issues in the instructions here. The picture shows a hasp on the door in place without any reference to it. The part is actually a PE piece (PE18) that you have to add. It is not molded on the door. There is a small mounting pad for it though. Also, the instructions show you adding part (C46) a pin, to the PE wire reel holder (PE17). The issue is that the holes in PE17 are not big enough for the rod to go through. You could try to drill out the holes, I choose to leave the rod off as it is removable to be able to add/remove the wire reel. I also did not add details to the door interior since I was modeling it closed.
Step 10 adds the rear plate and rear door to the lower hull.
Step 11 shows the assembled tracks being added to the hull with a note that each side requires 85 links. The track come in individual metal cast pieces with pins and individual center guide teeth. The tracks are very nice and accurately represent the newer T-161 tracks well. The guide teeth are correctly molded with an open design and look really nice. The tracks are assembled by taking two pieces of track and lining up their respective ends and sliding a pin though them to attach them together. The pins have a mushroom on one end that holds them together once you lightly tap them in. I used a small hammer to tap the pins in. Be careful to line up the bottom end connector though, as I broke a couple off by tapping in the pin in a little too hard when they were not lined up. Each center tooth is then super-glued onto the track setÖindividuallyÖall 170 of them. This actually went pretty quickly once I got into a rhythm. I was surprised that the tracks were still movable once all the center teeth were glued on. Be careful though, they will pop off easily. The set comes with about 4 extra pieces of track and a bunch of extra center teeth and pins. So if you break a few tracks or loose a few center guide teeth, you should be good. Most of the tracks are well molded, but a few needed a little scraping or to spin a xacto blade in the pin hole to allow them to slide in easily. The tracks took a while, but will come out good if you take your time.
Step 12 moves back to the upper front hull. Here, you add a camera unit, IFF panel, and the driverís hatch. There is an issue here with the instructions as well. The forward part of the driverís integrated foul weather hood is not shown. It is part C76 and goes onto the front of part C23. This part is made up of three windows for the driver to look through. Also not noted here is that the integrated foul weather hood can be shown in the up or down position and is hinged. The hinge is actually working in the kit. Part C35 that attaches to C23 is the hinge. On the underside of the upper hull, just behind the hatch opening is a raised slat. The hinge (C35) snaps onto this slat and allows the driverís integrated foul weather hood to be raised or lowered as you want.
Steps 13 and 14 add more detail parts to the front hull. There is one minor issue here. In step 14, you add a series of lift rings (D45) to the engine compartment cover plate. There are three shown in the instructions, but there should be four. Add another lift ring (D45) to the right bottom of the plate near the camera housing. There is an indent there for it.
Steps 15-18 build the articulated gun travel lock. It is pretty intricate, but go slow and it will go together just fine. It builds into a nice part and can be displayed folded down or in the up position. You have to choose which way you want the gun now as it is not hinged, but gets glues in either position. Up is for holding the gun in travel lock when the vehicle is moving or at rest. Down is when the gun is deployed and the barrel is in the firing position.
Steps 19-21 start on the turret with the ammunition stowage box that goes on the turret rear. Here you add smaller PE clips to stow the tow rope and some antennas. In step 21, there is no length listed to cut the wire rope at, it should be 113mm.
Steps 22-24 build and attach the rear turret stowage bins. These go together without issue and have some very nice PE screens on them. You can also position these either folded forward against the sides of the ammo box, which is the most common way, or folded to the rear which reduces the width of the turret. I waited to attach the bins to the ammo box until after it was attached to the turret rear in a later step.
Step 25 starts adding details to the turret with some PE clips and tools. It also shows an option to drill holes for the pintle-mounted weapon, either a MK19 Grenade Launcher or .50 cal MG. If you plan on using the CROWS 2 mount on the turret, donít drill these holes. The holes for the CROWS 2 mount are more forward and will be addressed later in the build. I chose the pintle mount since fielded vehicles have it as opposed to the CROWS 2.
Steps 26-31 continue adding turret details. There are no major issues here as most pieces go on without problem. There are a couple issues with the directions though. I will only point out those issues here.
First, in step 26, you add two mounts (D9) for the jerry cans on the right side of the turret, then in step 27 you add three jerry cans. There are two issues here. There should be three mounts added. Add another jerry can mount (D9) on the angled front corner of the turret where there is an indent for it. Also, none of the jerry cans have straps on them; how do they stay on the side of the turret? Add straps to the jerry cans in a cross pattern to secure them.
In step 28, there is a plate missing that goes behind part E35. The plate is part E15. Add it to the back side of E35, then attach the assembly to the turret front. There are placement tabs on each of the parts that align them properly. Also, there is an issue here with the handles on part E35. There are handles on each side, both numbered C91. The issue is that only one C91 is on the sprues. I added C92 to one of the sides. The handle issue will come up again later.
In step 29, there are two issues. First, the glass on the front of the pantel hood (E27 and E28) is not shown. There is a clear part for it (GP3) that should be added to the front of part C75, which is shown as solid, but is an open frame. The next is the handle issue again. Here, it calls for C92 on the left side of the turret. Well I already used C92 in step 27. I looked on the sprues and there is no other handled that can be used here. I ended up making this handle out of wire for here.
In step 30, the handle issue continues. It shows you attaching C47 as a grab handle on the hatch interior. C47 is a much larger handle that was already attached above the fuel filler opening in step 14. The correct handle here is C89. Again, we have the floating, magic jerry cans w/out straps on the left side of the turret as well. Add the straps here as well.
Steps 32 and 33 build the gun mount. This goes together without any issues and can be left movable if you are careful with the glue. Step 33 is misleading and potentially not correct to accurately represent the howitzer. You are given the option of what they call either Open Mode or Closed Mode by either installing or not installing the cover for the gun mount (E9). The issue is that the cover is always in place on the actual vehicle. There is no Open or Closed Mode. The cover is like a window shade and extends or retracts as the barrel is moved up and down. I left the cover (E9) of until later when the whole gun mount is complete and added it at a step when the other half of the cover assembly (C14) is added. Once you have decided at what attitude you want the barrel, glue it in place. Once this attitude is set, trim E9 to fit between its mounting pins and part C14.
Step 34 adds the turret base. I also added the rear ammo box and rear stowage bins at this stage after adding the turret base. This gives me a solid turret to add the rest of the parts to and a place to glue the front bracket on the bins.
Step 35 adds the M93 Chronograph to the front of the gun mount. Here is another issue with the instructions. The mount part (E34) should have a d-shaped opening in the upper left cylinder as the M93 mount (C62) has a d-shaped pin. You will need to drill out the end of the cylinder on E34.
Step 36-40 continues the details and building of the gun mount and barrel. There were no issues with the rest of the gun mount nor barrel. The two-part barrel goes together well and the seam was easily eliminated with a bit of light sanding and a small amount of putty in a couple places on the underside and the muzzle break.
Step 41 and 42 build the pintle-mounted guns; an M2 .50 cal MG or a MK19 AGL (Automatic Grenade Launcher). Both are very well detailed with multi-part bodies and mounts. There is one issue with the MK19 though. It is missing the two horizontal charging handles just behind where the mount attaches. This is easy to fix by drilling a hole through the body and adding a length of 0.030 rod through it. Glue it in place sticking out both sides, then cut each side down to about 1/8 inch after it is dry.
Steps 43-51 build the CROWS 2 weapons system. This appears to be the same CROWS 2 that is included in the Panda M-ATV w/CROWS 2 kit (35007) as it has the roof ring mount for the M-ATV on the sprue. It builds up nicely and is very detailed when done. There is another issue with the instructions here though. In step 43, there is a mislabeled part and one not shown. The mislabeled part is the gun cradle listed as K42. It should be K32. K42 is the left side of the .50 cal (K38) and not shown at all. Add K42 to K38 to complete the .50 cal body. The rest of the CROWS 2 system builds without issue.
Step 52 shows the three options for weapons to be installed; the two pintle-mounted ones (M2 .50 cal MG or a MK19 AGL) and the CROWS 2. It also shows that the CROWS gets mounted below and forward of the pintle mount. There are two holes started on the underside of the turret roof that you will need to drill out if you are going to mount the CROWS 2. Step 52 also shows the ammo box being added to the rear of the turret, which I added back in step 34.
Step 53 completes the build by mating the turret to the hull by snapping them together. Panda has made this attachment point very nicely and unlike most turret/hull connections which have a key and notch system, this one has a friction clip that snaps it into place. It allows the opening in the hull to be a complete, unbroken circle and the turret can be removed with a bit of gentle pressure. A good feature in my book.
Lastly, there is a two-sided color sheet which shows color callouts and decal placement on the vehicle. There are no unit markings, but plenty of tool placement and general stencils on the decal sheet that should look good once applied.
Also included is one resin figure that is holding an artillery round. I applaud Panda for including the resin figure. This has been a trend with their sister company Kitty Hawk who produces aircraft and helicopter models including pilots and/or crewmen in their kits. However, in my opinion, this figure is horrible. He is tall and skinny, which in itself is not an issue, but he just looks weird to me. The uniform doesnít look right either. The thigh pockets are not like any US uniform I have seen. The round is skinny and long and doesnít look like a 155mm round either. I will not be using the figure.
Overall this is a very nice kit and it goes together without much issue. The biggest issues I encountered were the discrepancies in the instructions. Though most were easy to overcome, some of would not have been if I didnít have a good knowledge of the vehicle and how it operates. The omissions and errors should have been caught by Panda and corrected. I really liked the indi-link metal tracks they really represent the look of T-161 tracks well. I do wish the center guide teeth were molded so they could also be attached with the pins, just like real center guide teeth though. They tend to be fragile and pop off when maneuvering the tracks. Good thing there are lots of extras of them.