Here we go again…

As if conjured up by my Pivot to the Pacific… thread the PLAN is back at it in the South China Sea.  They have attacked a Vietnamese fishing trawler in the Paracels and now have a large amphibious expeditionary force operating in the James Shoals area near Malaysia.  While confrontation over various claims is not new to the region such a sizeable deployment is not common.  China is stepping up their game trying to legitimize their territorial claims.  How far are they willing to go right now?  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Of course the PRC is not the only China…

  Keeping the focus on the Pacific I have decided to revive a long dormant kitbashing project and in the process feature some models of the other Chinese navy.  The Republic of China (ROC) Navy has a long standing tradition of buying U.S. surplus warships so in 2005 when the first pair of Kidd class DDGs were commissioned into the ROC Navy, as the Kee Lung class, I resolved to have my own as well.  There are no quality castings of the Kidd class in 1/2400 scale.  Superior Models makes one I know but I think most of their models are poorly scaled.  The only remaining option is to kitbash one, or in this case four of them.

  With any kitbash project I started with a Google image search to determine what are the major features that differentiate the Kidd class from her sisters in the Spruance class.  Before I continue I should mention that my basic philosophy of modeling in this scale is that close enough is good enough.  What I mean is I consider myself primarily a wargamer and I want a representational model on the table I don’t feel the need for hyper detailing and I’m not bothered if minor details are not technically correct.  From three feet away does it look like a Kidd class DDG? If so, great let’s play!  So the end result is there will be technical differences between the Kidd and Spruance classes that aren’t accounted for in my conversion.  Here is a picture of one of the Kidd DDGs in ROC service which I used as my baseline for the conversion.


  So the major differences between the two classes are; of course the Mk26 twin launcher instead of the ASROC launcher forward and BPMDS/Sea Sparrow launcher aft, the associated fire control radars on the superstructure, the small housing on top of the bridge supporting the forward fire control radar, and the larger housing aft of the main mast supporting the aft fire control radar.  Any other differences don’t matter at this scale in my opinion.

  Armed with the baseline of changes that need to be incorporated the next step is to identify the proper hull for conversion.  There are a couple of candidates here.  The first option is to use the excellent Spruance model offered by GHQ.


  It is a beautiful model with plenty of detail.  In fact, the model in the picture is not what you get when you order one.  Most of the aerials in the photo are super details added by the modeler.  The challenges in using this model as the base hull are the cost, at $9.95 a piece it isn’t cheap, and the fact that it is the VLS version which just means more work removing the VLS system to make room for the Mk26 launcher.

  The next option, really two options, are from CinC models.  They produce two versions of the Spruance class, one is the VLS version shown here.


  The other is the basic configuration shown here.


    While CinC miniatures are not as detailed as those offered by GHQ the casts are every bit as clean and crisp which makes them excellent candidates for kitbashing projects.  The CinC ships retail at $7 a piece, almost 30% less than GHQ. The other factor influencing my decision at the time was the fact that I happened to have a surplus of CinC Spruance models on hand.  

  In 2006 I started the conversion with four CinC models that had seen better wargaming days and were a little banged up.  The picture below is where the project was left the last time I worked on it in 2006.  The small housing above the bridge for the forward fire control radar and the large housing aft for that fire control radar were constructed using Evergreen Plactic stock and Squadron modeling putty.  Then I got stuck trying to figure out how to make the fire control radars.  I spent hours hand carving two radars out of Evergreen plastic stock for two of the ships.  Result was less than stellar and I shelved the project.  The two radars can almost bee seen on the two closest ships.


  I think I have a solution for that problem but more on that later.  The next step is to remove the existing launchers from the decks fore and aft.


  Here’s where I add that I should have stripped the paint off the models before I began the conversion back in 2006.  The next step is to add a thin piece of plastic stock for the missile magazine doors.  I elected to use one larger piece which would be cut down to shape in subsequent steps because it just seemed easier to work with a larger piece until it was securely attached to the hull.  And for those of you with model building experience you already know what happened to me.  The CA glue I used adhered to the paint but not the hull so half of the pieces came off, in whole or in part, during the following steps making it much more work in the final analysis.


  In the next photo I have drilled the hole for the Mk26 launcher pedestal and started trimming the magazine doors down to a more appropriate size.


  The next step is to glue the pedestals for the twin launcher in place.  I used oversized pieces to account for variances in the depths of the hole that were drilled earlier. 


  Here is the final step for today.  The pedestals have been trimmed.  I special ordered extra twin launchers from CinC – they come from their model of the cruiser Virginia – and glued them in place.  You can see that the 5in guns have been damaged in the process which will have to be repaired.  Unfortunately, the original owner of these particular ships cut out the supporting flash of the original cast to make it look more realistic.  Realistsic? Yes. Sturdy enough for table top gaming? No.


  So what comes next?  Well as I mentioned I need to find a source for the fire control radars and I think I have.  Here is an excellent GHQ model of USS California CGN-35.  On the forward super structure there are three examples of the radars I’m looking for.  It seems like a terrible waste but I think I’ll have to special order o few of these superstructure pieces and them cut them off.  Three of these will give me one more than I need for this project.  Maybe I can use the leftover bits to start my own metal casting projects…


  While I wait for those parts to arrive I will share a sneak peak at the next ROC Navy projects.  I have a couple of excess Knox class and Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates which will undergo conversion for ROC service.  Initial research indicates the major difference will be the addition of box launchers for indigenous ROC anti-ship missiles.


  More to come…

Pivot to the Pacific

While I ruminate on how to proceed with my monument it is time to change directions a bit and look at 1/2400 modern naval war gaming.  I want to focus on the various models offered covering the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been undergoing a renaissance of both naval theory and naval architecture.  For many years the PLAN relied on ships and ship designs cast off from the Soviet Union.  No longer.  The PLAN has been building homegrown designs in all categories from submarines to destroyers to amphibious ships.  While it is true that they still use some Soviet/Russian ships and submarines like their “new” aircraft carrier, the naval construction program is very robust.

Here is part of my PLAN fleet.

PLAN Fleet – Models by Viking Forge

These particular models are by Viking Forge.  They have a good level of detail and are very reasonably priced and as far as I can tell they were the first to bring modern PLAN ships to market in 1/2400 scale.  The two closest ships in the front row are Type 052C (Luyang II) DDGs.  The middle two ships in the front row are Type 052B (Luyang I) DDGs.  The final two ships in the front row are Type 053H1 (Jianghu II) FFGs.  I’m working on hull numbers and deck markings next.

GHQ has decided to get back into modern micronaut market with some new PLAN vessels of their own.  Its amazing to me that a company like GHQ – self titled “Best Damn Wargaming Products” supplier since 1967 haven’t produced a new modern naval vessel since 1990.  That was the year they produced the LHD.  I’ll try not to harp on them too much about that because I am very happy they have had a change of heart.  Their newest models are the PLAN aircraft carrier, Liao Ning, the Type 054A (Jiankai II) FFG, and the Type 053H3 (Jiangwei II) FFG.  Here are the unpainted models from their catalog, unfortunately mine haven’t arrived yet.

Liao Ning Jiangkai II Jiangwei II

Now if I can just get one of these fine companies to start making the PLAN amphibious vessels we could have a really good battle in the Spratlys.  Better yet, maybe a little dust up with the JMSDF over the Senkaku Islands is in order.  Guess I better get the fleet painted.

Life is elswhere

So my discussion about Green Stuff inspired me to try a project of my own.  I’ve cleared my calendar of all the things I have to do and its time to do something I want to do.  Thinking about what would make a good first project I suddenly remembered one that has been languishing for four or five years.  I had constructed what would be a war monument intended to be part of a 1/285 scale city park diorama.  I was inspired for that project by this…


The full tutorial for how this scene was constructed can be found here.  My monument featured a rectangular base, laminated pedestal and a GHQ 10mm Napoleonic figure on horseback.  All that was lacking was some suitable plaque/medallion on the sides of the pedestal.  Something like this in concept.


In the past I’ve tried Super Sculpey, plastic card, and even considered trying to etch brass.  None of these produced a satisfactory result.

Green Stuff, however, looked very promising.  I went to the local art store yesterday and they had some Milliput two part epoxy putty in stock.  Excellent! I thought about what the medallion’s shape should be.  I watched videos on YouTube to learn more about working with epoxy putties.  I was all ready to finally finish this project.

Then I went to the storage room.  I can’t find the model.  In my last move I separated most of my 1/285 stuff from my 1/2400 ships.  1/285 stuff went to storage and the naval stuff came with me.  Somehow, I thought the monument was in the bits bin that came along with my hobby tools.  I haven’t found it yet.  Perhaps this project will have to wait another couple of years…

I have an idea…

  It usually starts with something simple.  Today the subject is Green Stuff.  I was talking with a friend who is a closet sculptor.  I think he believes most of his co-workers would stop talking to him if he came out of the closet.  You see men of a certain age are not supposed to play Dungeons & Dragons.  Actually he doesn’t play D&D he plays Call of Cthulhu and sculpts most of his own Great Old Ones, but CoC is a pretty obscure reference in this day and age.  [Full disclosure – I have played CoC in the distant past and I am a closet fan of H.P. Lovecraft but I can’t say I’m active in the genre at all.]

  Anyway, he was explaining his most recent creation and mentioned needing to go buy more Green Stuff to complete the project.  I have heard of the stuff over the years but never tried it myself.  At the risk of showing my ignorance I asked him to explain what it was and how it worked.  I’ll admit i was emboldened by the fact I knew his secret life and would threaten to out him to his co-workers if he even snickered at my ignorance.  As I found out, and you may know, Green Stuff is a two part epoxy putty.  One part is blue, one part is yellow.  Mix together until the compound is green throughout and mold or sculpt as desired.  It eventually cures into a solid model of whatever.  Cool!

  The other thing I will admit is that as he described to me how it works and what can be created with the stuff my eyes sort of glazed over and I stopped listening to him.  I was already off on my own tangent imagining what I can create.  Maybe some U-boat pens, or micro armor truck cargo, or a capsized ship hull, or a Maginot line fortification…  Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.  I need to go and see if the local hobby shop has some Green Stuff.



How Star Trek got it right.

  The replicator technology in the Star Trek universe is amazing.  Something out of nothing.  Just as communicators begat cell phones I think 3D-printing can trace its parentage to replicators.  If you don’t know what 3D-printing is or understand why I would talk about it here let me show you something.

Image This is a “printed” miniature.  It is a 1/2400 scale model of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Helicopter Curiser Hyuga.  I lived in Japan for a couple of years and deeply regret not going to the “open house” held when she first arrived in Yokosuka.  I desperately wanted one in this scale to augment my other JMSDF warships from Viking Forge miniatures.  [For the purists out there my understanding is Viking Forge has a U.S. production license for Sea Battle miniatures which are produced in Austria.  Their catalog items made under this agreement begin with the ‘SB’ prefix.  I have Sea Battle models made in Austria and by Viking Forge – no difference in quality but Viking Forge is way cheaper than importing.  Now back to our story…]  None of the established companies makes this ship in this scale.  Enter Shapeways.

Shapeways is a 3D-printing service, if I understand their business model correctly.  You design a product you want printed and they can do it for you.  They also provide an online e-commerce space where you can post your gadget for other people to buy.  Shapeways and the gadget creator split the proceeds in some fashion I’m sure.  Some of the designs are crap but some are interesting and possibly unavailable in any other form.  In fact I just saw a z-scale dumpster that would be perfect for 1/285 scale dioramas, but I digress.  Each of the designs can be printed in several different materials depending on your budget or needs.  “White strong & flexible” is the least expensive material and from the models I’ve seen you get what you pay for.  The finish looks bumpy under even casual examination.  Okay for a convention game where damaged or lost models is a real concern.  At a cost of $6.83 there isn’t a whole lot invested. The model pictured above is printed in the “frosted detail” material which is the most expensive option for this model at $14.30.  This is about what a premium company like GHQ would charge for a similarly sized aircraft carrier.  This model is nice but not GHQ nice.  Still, it is currently the only model of this ship available in this scale.

There are faults and imperfections with this model which I will try to cover in a proper Tow Tank evaluation at a later date.  The underlying technology is really cool though and I encourage you to wander around Shapeways and see if there isn’t something that strikes your fancy.


My kitbashed version of the Skorpion

One of the things I’ve done over the years when manufacturers have been slow making the obscure models I need to round out particular units is to kitbash by own.  For the uninitiated kitbashing involves taking an existing model and modifying it to represent a different vehicle or ship altogether.  Kitbashing can be as simple as swapping parts with another kit or it can be a very detailed process of cutting, reshaping, and adding structure.

The vehicle in the picture is a Skorpion minelayer from the Bundeswehr.  This conversion was only moderately complicated.  The basic vehicle is an M548 transport from Pfc-CinC a miniature manufacturer in Minnesota.  The back of the model is cut down and then rebuilt to the proper contour using Evergreen Plastics card stock.  The mine launcher devices are trimmed down multiple rocket launcher rack from a GHQ miniature pack.  A full “how-to” description will be a future feature on the blog.  Interesting side note GHQ manufactures miniatures across town from Pfc-CinC.

For the sake of comparison here is a photo of an actual Skorpion in action.  I’m pretty pleased with the way this conversion turned out.  I’ve made a dozen of these conversions over the years and either traded, sold, or gave most of them away to fellow gamers.

A real Skorpion in action