by: Russ Amott [ ]
The USS San Diego, sixth of the San Antonio class of Amphibious Transport Dock ships, was laid down May 23, 2007, Launched May 7, 2010 and commissioned May 19, 2012. These ships replaced not only the older LPD vessels of the Austin Class but also the Tank Landing Ships and amphibious cargo ships of the US Navy. Designed to act alone or with other LHA, LHD or LPD vessels, the San Diego has a crew of 28 officers and 333 enlisted personnel. The four Colt-Pielstick diesel engines power twin shafts that propel the ship at up to 22 knots. Defensive armament consists of 2× Bushmaster II 30 mm close-in-gun and two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers with testing being conducted for a modular mount Mk 41 eight-cell VLS for quad-packed ESSMs. .50 cal machine guns can be mounted on the ship at various locations. The extensive and complicated sensor and communications array is hidden under two conical towers that enhance the stealth capability of the ship.
The real power of the San Diego is in the 699 man US Marine battalion carried on board. The San Diego is able to support both water and airborne delivery of the force. The landing deck on the rear of the ship can launch or land two MV-22 osprey or four CH-46 or UH-1 helicopters simultaneously, or one CH-53. The AV-8B Harrier has made test landings on the ship and in an emergency can be landed and launched singly.
The well deck, under the launch deck, can accommodate one LCU or two LCAC for ship to shore delivery of troops and equipment. Additionally, 14 AAV are stored internally, along with an assortment of other heavy vehicles and equipment used by the Marine landing force that will fit in the 2323 sq meter space found on the three vehicle decks.
Bronco Models first came out with the LPD-17 USS San Antonio and then followed with the LPD-21, USS New York and the subject of this review, the LPD-22, USS San Diego.
The kit comes in a very large box with artwork showing the USS San Diego underway, an LCAC moving across the foreground, CH-53 on the landing deck and an Osprey and a pair of Harriers flying overhead; the type of scene one would expect during a landing. Inside the box are a mixture of large and small sprues, all carefully packaged, as well as the large single moldings for the hull sections and main deck, and a plastic stand to mount the completed full hull model. The hull sections are made so that a waterline version can be built as an option for the modeler.
Overall details are excellent. Molding is very fine and detail generally quite good. The hull is molded smooth, without representation of the multiple panels seen on the actual ship, and a few hatches are missing, including one large door on the starboard (right hand) side of the ship. Tie down cleats are carefully molded into the upper hull sides, along with louvers and other, smaller hatches.
Much of the detail on this kit is fairly simple as the two towers cover what would be a far more complex assembly for the masts hidden underneath, and the simplified box structures on the upper hull. The 16 cell missile launchers are multi part assemblies to maximize detail on them and the modeler has the option of selecting an open or closed well deck and aircraft hangar. Unfortunately, for both of those there is little or nothing in the way of interior detail, so it will be up to the modeler to find good reference and scratch the needed details like tie downs, air circulation units and fire hoses.
The most complex sub-sections of this kit will be for the accessory aircraft and LCAC provided with the kit. The air wing is provided with clear styrene parts and includes two each of the CH-53E, CH-46, MV-22B, MH-60S and AV-8B. The LCAC are separate model kits on their own with the parts count and detail included. Two each of the M1A1 Abrams, AAVTP7A1 and up armored M1114 are included.
There is a lot of etch for the kit, with some very fine pieces for the ship rails and siding doors and many parts to detail the CH-53.
Decals provided include markings for the ship, LCAC and aircraft. The decals are on very thin carrier film and appear to be in good register though the star detail on the US flag decals for the LCAC suffer at the small scale. On a down side, the decals for each aircraft and the 2 LCAC are identical so each will have the same markings. There are a few reference photos for LCAC-76 for those who wish for additional detailing.
The only flash I could find were bits visible on the clear moldings for the aircraft.
A dry fit of the upper and lower hull sections showed there would be some fit issues, but having read several other builds, this was somewhat expected. The main issue, as will be shown shortly, is that the provided alignment holes and pins don't line up.
The provided instructions are in booklet form, with a sprue map provided at the beginning and each assembly step shown in line drawings. Assembly is shown in 21 steps, with the following steps given over to construction of the accessories. One downside is a lack of detail painting in the instructions but other than that they are clear and easy to follow. The painting guide shows colors used which are called out by name and product number for Mr Hobby aqueous hobby color, GSI Creos hobby color, Humbrol and Tamiya brand paints.
Everything looks good in the box, but the real proof is in assembly. I expected (several months ago) that this would be a quick and easy build. A couple of unexpected hurdles with the kit, as well as everyday life delayed the build but I was able to get it done.
The first thing to decide is if you want a full hull or waterline hull build. I wanted the full hull build and so set to work trying to get the hull sections to line up. First word of advice: The kit instructions show to attach everything to the upper hull and then, near the end, attach that to the lower hull sections. It took a lot of work, clamping and pressure and several attempts to get the hull sections attached. I started by removing the pins that I could see would not line up at all, and ended up removing them all. The upper deck section is attached with tabs that fit along the inside of the molding. I then applied glue in small sections at a time, trying to get things to line up better. In the end I had to use some heavy bracing across the well deck to get my sample to get reasonably straightened out. To be fair to Bronco, I was able to note from the outset that the hull sections appeared to be heavily warped. I may have been able to contact Bronco and advise them of this, with better fitting replacement parts sent out to correct the issue, but I can get fixated a bit on issues and kept working with the kit parts.
After getting the hull assembled, it was on to filler and sanding to take care of the heavy seam line issues. On the larger gaps I ended up using some evergreen stock styrene to help smooth things over. Much care was taken to not destroy the molded on detail of the upper hull section. While I waited for putty and primer paint to dry I was able to assemble the upper hull structures.
With the lower hull repair finally completed sufficiently to proceed, the rest of the ship build went relatively smoothly, with the exception of the photo etch. The photo etch is very delicate and some of the longer pieces, such as the railing that goes above and below the bridge windows, will quickly and easily get bent out of shape. For me, one little snag was all it took to destroy the piece. Also, for many of the structures, some dry fitting is needed as seam lines run along the edges of some of the parts, offsetting the fit somewhat.
On the upper structure, the boat crane is shown with the crane turned and facing out to sea. Unless it is in use at the time, it would be turned facing the rear of the vessel.
On the foredeck, the bitts and capstans are individual parts and need some care in placing. The motor launches and RHIB are nice looking, but again, no detail painting is provided for these.
The landing deck has the tie downs molded in place, as well as raised detail for the painted landing zones, which make it easy to locate where the decals go but may be unwanted by some modelers. Etch safety nets are placed along the deck edges at the rear of the ship. Our cat (I am NOT a cat person) had an affinity for these and was continually pulling them off. The other railings attached along the ship were again extremely delicate to place but once in place really add a lot of detail to the appearance of the kit.
The instructions say to paint the entire ship above the waterline with FS6270 gray but photos show the deck surfaces are a darker color and appeared to be some kind of non skid coating. Only hull red is shown below the water line but official images show a black line between the hull red and gray. I used a dark gray to paint the deck areas and landing deck. There are a few decals for the ship, but really not very many. One detail I will raise here is that each of these ships has its own, very distinctive set of markings applied by the crew on the capstans, usually the logo of a sports team from the namesake city.
I assembled the LCAC and I was surprised at both the detail and the size of the parts-very tiny. I put these together on a post it sticker, using two magnifying glasses to see the tiny bits. Likewise with the assembly of the air wing, in particular the CH-53E, which is another detailed mini model, there were many tiny pieces, including etch I could not locate once it was cut off the fret.
I do like the clear plastic for the helicopters and Harrier jet as the windscreens and canopy are much better represented with this material rather than with paint. The downside is that it is more brittle, resulting in some broken rotors, and for me, trying to see how things fit after assembly, as I can't see how the fit has gone. If your eyes suffer like mine, it would be best to add some paint to the parts before assembly so you can see how they line up. The color called for is neutral gray, but this is not correct. Light ghost gray would be preferred for the base coat. I ended up using a darker shade to try to make the low contrast decals visible (they were barely so) and did a bit of detail painting. One thing missing from this kit (but available in a separate accessory set from Gallery models) are the carrier deck tractors and tows.
Decals for the aircraft are extremely small. Again, with maximum magnification and using the tip of a no. 11 blade, I was able to get decals on the Osprey, Harrier and CH-46. I then spent some time working on deck placement to see how it would look.
When I built this kit, I had intended to do it as a complete build to show the parts fit on the unpainted but fully assembled kit. The downside to this is that follow up painting is very difficult for the deck sections. I would also have held off on attaching any etch until the very end to prevent damage to the fragile material. Don't ask what I would do with the cat.
As mentioned in the above details, there were some issues with the kit, with the biggest being the fit of the hull sections. With the size of the well deck, there is ample room to provide more detail than just a set of etch railings along the inside. An advanced modeler can really make the well deck shine (literally, with some LED lights).
Likewise with the aircraft hangar, the opening is large enough to allow for much better detail to be seen. The air wing is nice, but the Harrier is not assigned to this aircraft and would only operate on this ship in an emergency. Aircraft tugs are also needed for the deck. The vehicle assortment for the LCAC is very basic, and a better representation of the vehicles carried by a Marine Battalion would have been of much more use. Variation in the decals for the aircraft would also have been better, so that, when sitting side by side on the deck you don't have two helicopters or Ospreys with the same numbers (assuming you can actually see the decals at that scale).
On the plus side, the detail is very good, the aircraft are a nice representation and fill the deck space to good effect. The completed kit is an attractive looking ship and for the modeler who has the skill and patience to put in the extra effort and detail, it will serve as an excellent palette. I have already had several people comment on the ship, asking questions about it and wanting to know details about the model.
This kit was provided courtesy of Dragon USA and Model Shipwrights. Retail is listed at $130.00 but it can be found for less, so shop carefully, and have fun building.