This kit of the brand new French armored infantry fighting vehicle was first announced in 2011 by the new Heller staff and was released in late 2012.
The kit depicts the vehicle as used by the French army in Afghanistan with add-on armor panels, Qinetiq RPG-nets and the belly anti-mine protection.
For Heller it is a kind of revival as the quality standard is way ahead of their last armor model, the VAB.
For the purpose of the review, the hatches are all closed, the model is not painted, and the wheels are not fixed as the way they are clicked to the axles prevents removing them.
The kit comes in a soft cardboard box with a lid which tilts upward.
The contents comprise 261 parts, 8 vinyl tires, a piece of net, a small decal sheet and a 20-page instruction booklet. The plastic parts come with 6 sand sprues and 2 clear sprues for the vision blocks and the rear door.
The kit is designed to build a vehicle as deployed to Afghanistan by the French army in 2011-2012. If you intend to build it as deployed to Lebanon or stationed in France, you will have to apply some modifications to the kit and not simply leave the specific Afghanistan parts in the box. This will be mentioned further late in the review. The way the rear panel and the troop compartment roof are designed leads to think that Heller has already planned other versions and maybe the command vehicle.
The tooling is up to the modern standard with an overall very good level of detail. The molding is generally good but suffers from some flash or some holes due to a lack of plastic on a limited number of parts. The inner faces of the hatches and the rear ramp present us with injection marks. Such marks are also present (although in a less visible way) on the FAMAS and the MINIMI. Some parts like the RPG-net supports are very fine and require some attention during cutting from the sprue.
The instructions come in a 20-page booklet and comprise 51 steps for the build and two for the decoration. Almost no text is provided. Some easy-to-understand pictorial symbols (a drill, a cutter, a paintbrush, a tube of glue) show what you have to do at each step. A caption is printed in the box. The paint references are in the Heller range. Heller gives you three decoration options for two different regiments as deployed in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the sprues before starting assembling the kit for the review. So you’ll only have in-progress pictures. [For sprue shots, check out the kit on the Heller website
the buildStep 1
In this initial step, Heller requires that you drill out 69 holes in various vehicle parts mainly to allow the fitting of the RPG-net brackets.
Steps 2 to 13
cover the one-man turret. The general shape is correct. The detail is sharp on the roof but on the sides the bolts are not correctly depicted probably due to some technical limitations. They could be replaced by aftermarket ones.
The Galix brackets are simplified. Two of them present a sink hole in their back that must be filled. Unfortunately Heller does not provide the grenades which are loaded when the vehicles are on a combat mission.
On the gun mantlet, Heller omitted a small flap above the barrel. The barrel fluting is present although a bit too flat. Immediately above the barrel there is an ejection port which is solid and that you can hollow. The muzzle too is molded solid and should be hollowed.
The gunner sight housing is well depicted. The armored doors can be shown open. If you choose this option you must sand the inner faces as flush there is a injection mark. The sight itself is a clear part.
The vehicle commander independent sight is nice and can be oriented in any direction.
The co-axial MG housing is nicely represented with the large hinge on top of it. The spent links ejection port is present but could be hollowed. The spent cases ejection port is missing.
On the left of the gunner there is the support of the LIRE antitank missile jammer. Heller has represented it without the bolted plate on top of it. The plate is in fact molded with the LIRE part. If you intend to build your vehicle in France or Lebanon, you should add the plate after removing the positioning lug on the support. The rear face of the LIRE is flat (except from the heat sink fins) while a chamfer should be present.
The hatch inner face is not correct. The foam padding is wrong. It should rise from the hatch while it is too flat. Moreover Heller has created a raised lip all around the hatch which is not present for real.
A basic interior is provided but very little will remain visible even with the hatch open.
Steps 14 to 19
focus on the upper hull. In fact they only deal with the top decks as the sides of the upper hull are molded with the lower hull armor plates.
Steps 14 and 15
concern the engine deck and steps 16 to 19
the combat compartment. For both parts you have to deal first with the interior before tackling the exterior. The interior is basic with only the vision blocks and various screens for the driver station. In the troop compartment, the vision blocks F3 are not correct. They are depicted as standard periscope vision blocks while in the real thing to prevent any injury to the troops, they have been designed with a flat bottom and a mirror that can be tilted down to see through the block. Heller has limited the interior details for the roof. You also will have to remove numerous injection marks.
Concerning the front part of the engine deck, the foldable mirrors brackets are simplified. They are molded solid while they are hollowed on the real thing. In front of the driver station, the vision block protections are a bit simplified too. The washers for the central vision block should be higher.
Around the engine grille, there is bolted frame missing. The mesh grille is not provided by Heller. Some extra fine square mesh could be added.
If you intend to open the hatches, you will face the same mistakes as with the gunner's hatch.
Just behind the turret well on the right, you have a large bolted cover that should be more raised than depicted by Heller.
The exterior is well done with the antislip material being lightly suggested. However, Heller put it in a correct way so it will be easy to find where to apply it. Take note that around each of the numerous bolt heads there is a perfect circle without antislip.
Steps 20 to 24
deal with the undercarriage. The four axles are identical but Heller requires that you delete some positioning lugs depending on the position of the axle. This will need some attention to avoid any mistake. The instructions are clear enough though. The steering arms are quite thin, so be careful when you remove them from the sprue.
Steps 25 to 35
complete the undercarriage and start the vehicle sides. This is due to the way the vehicle sides are designed. In fact, the armored plates for the lower hull are molded with the upper hull sides. So you have to glue the vehicle sides before assembling the hydraulic shock absorbers. To get a perfect fit, smooth the inner face of the sides. Heller molded the shock absorbers with a hollow facing the hull. The foremost one should be filled as the hollow will remain partly visible. During these steps, you can assemble the wheels but I advise you to do this after the painting step. It will ease the weathering process. Take note that the undercarriage is always painted black even when the vehicle is painted white in UN service.
The rubber tires are simplified with no markings due to a copyright issue with Michelin. No doubt that the AM companies will fill this void. The wheel hubs with the Renault logo are provided as separate parts which is a good idea. They lack the two screw caps.
On the sides, the camo net bags are not the best rendition I have seen in scale. So here again there is room for the AM companies. Concerning the three racks for stowing various things on the sides of the vehicle, be aware that the configuration of the kit is only suitable for a vehicle deployed to Afghanistan. You are asked to glue them during steps 25 and 26
. The best is to glue the vehicle sides to the hull tub before putting the racks. The belly armor in step 35
is specific to vehicles deployed to Afghanistan too.
Steps 32 to 34
tackle the rear panel. This is certainly there that Heller missed the target. The Galix brackets shape is wrong and will be hard to fix as these parts are molded solid. The bins on each side of the ramp should have a raised door. The towing cable is quite ugly but the brackets are correct. Unfortunately they are molded solid with the cable. The rear lights are provided as clear parts. Heller does not provide their protection grilles.
Steps 36 to 41
complete the rear of the vehicle and start the interior. But first you have to put in the headlight clear parts and then the front armor plate. If you don't follow this sequence, it will be impossible to glue the headlights. Be aware that at this stage the headlights must be painted, at least on their back. The front armor plate presents a kind of add-on armor plate in its lower part which doesn’t exist for real and the headlight cut-out should be slightly angled. This is hardly noticeable though.
The rear ramp comes with a separate door which is a clear part as it has a vision port with a pivoting armored shutter. The inner face of the ramp had some injection marks. The foam padding is a bit simplified. A slot beside the door handle must be filled. If you model the ramp lowered, you have to use the hydraulic jacks C21. Their ends bolted to the ramp are not perfectly depicted but are good enough.
At the end of the assembly Heller shows how to put the RPG-net on the ramp. It is better to only glue the brackets and put the nets on after painting.
concerns the rear ramp installation with two options : closed or open. If you choose the second option, Heller provides the two large hydraulic jacks.
Steps 43 to 45
deal with the interior of the driver and the troop compartments. The turret well is empty but you can hardly see it even with the ramp lowered. The parts provided in the kit are a good base for hardcore scratchbuilders. The driver and the vehicle commander stations are basic. The troop compartment is a bit more filled. Some nicely done FAMAS rifles and one MINIMI are included. They are of the early type without any devices (Aimpoint, magnifying scope, piccatiny rail, under-barrel handle …) as seen in Afghanistan.
Steps 46 and 47
have you putting the upper parts and turret on the hull. There is no problem in these steps. The fit is nearly perfect and you will need a very small amount of putty to fill tiny gaps mainly at both front hull corners.
Steps 48 to 51
deal with the RPG-net fitting. The real net is attached to frames which are themselves fixed to the hull thanks to rods. Those rods are attached to brackets bolted to the hull. Heller has omitted the brackets so the rods are directly glued into the holes you have drilled at step 1. Some of the frames are molded with rods, some not. The net misses the hexagonal parts at each “node” of the mesh.
The plastic parts are quite thin and require some attention to prevent any breakage. The lower portion of the side frames is missing. The net parts are cut from large piece of mesh provided by Heller. Unfortunately there is no scale template. You should glue the pieces of mesh to the frames with CA glue before gluing the latter to the hull. Moreover I advise you to glue the frames after the vehicle has been painted. If you haven't put the wheels on before, don't forget to do so before gluing the nets. In the pictures, the frames are just fixed with blu-tac for the review.
Steps 52 and 53
give you the camouflage pattern and the decals positions. Don't be surprised that the MLC number is 33 while on the vehicles seen in France or in Lebanon it is 31. This is due to the extra weight of the Afghanistan-specific parts. The units’ markings are for the first two mechanized infantry regiments equipped with the VBCI.
Despite some flaws, Heller has made a big step forward with this new kit. There still is room for improvement, but the kit is buildable from the box and is pretty much accurate. It can be built as a homeland stationed vehicle with minor modifications. It is really easy to build thanks to clear instructions and a well-thought design of the parts. Let's hope that other variants – including the command vehicle - will follow!