Impressions: Empress Stryker ICV and MGS

Playing as US force in Ultramodern tabletop wargaming is like being a kid with a box of toys. There are so many options that are available! On one side, you could be rolling around in technicals as SF advisers alongside local troops. Alternatively, you could break out the heavy metal and plonk the Bradleys and Abrams on the table. An interesting option is to roll out with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team and all the vehicles it includes.

 

If you are not aware of the Stryker, it’s an APC based off the Canadian LAV-III. Entering US service as part of a post-cold war rapid reaction force, it was designed to fill the gap between Humvees and Bradleys. Airportable yet armoured, the platform includes multiple variants to fulfil different combat roles. It’s first use in Iraq revealed some issues but also showed some advantages over other vehicles, leading to it continuing in service. As well as the Stryker BCTs, other American forces have used them; The US Army Rangers first used them for urban raids in Iraq but images and footage from Syria have shown them still in use, often alongside much lighter vehicles.

On The Tabletop

Of course, we’re here to look at the model version from Empress. Both vehicles are the usual metal and resin construction, with metal details fitting on top of large amount of resin. There isn’t a huge amount of construction to do but I have to mention the wheels. The back wheels fit into horizontal pegs rather solidly but the front four fit into struts that fit into holes on the underside of the vehicle. This can leave them a little delicate so there is a metal plate that fits across the vehicle and then has caps that sit on top of the struts for support.

As previously discussed, I am a cack handed fool and managed to snap the caps off on all of the metal plates while trying to bend them gently to fit. I ended up having to reconstruct the supports with plastic card. It’s not noticeable in gameplay but it’s definitely something to do very carefully when assembling.

There is a nice amount of detail on the vehicle, with cargo racks, jerry cans and tools all exposed on the side. The only thing that is missing, and is almost iconic on Stykers in action, is cage or SLAT armour for defeating RPGs. As much as this would be a nice addition to the kit, I can see the reason it wasn’t included.

Painting

When I first broke out the paint, I unsure about what colour to actually paint it. Most of my US vehicles are painted in tan. However, it’s very hard to find pictures of tan painted Strykers in action. Most are instead are a particular shade of green with dust on top, presumably to save having to repaint the rapid reaction vehicles as they move from theatre to theatre. I ended up picking up a can of Tamiya’s NATO Green (TS-61) for the base colour. I then decided to hide most of the green under some tan drybrushing to really give it the dusty look.

I’m not 100% on the final look (I might have overdone it a bit) but I prefer the look over the basic green. This was also a really quick way of painting them up, making it ridiculous that it took me over a year to finish them.

Now we’ve gone over the common features, lets look at the specifics of each vehicle:

Strkyer ICV

The ICV (or Infantry Carrier Vehicle) is the main vehicle in the family, performing the role of APC. Being able to carry a full 9 man infantry squad, the ICV can support the troops after they have disembarked thanks to it’s remote weapon system on top. Strykers have been seen using MK19s, M240s and M2 HMGs but Empress only sells a version with the classic Ma Deuce. As well as the .50cal, the weapon system also include smoke grenade launchers.

Aside from the weapon system, the main features of this vehicle (compared to the other variant) is the rear ramp and door, as well as the positioning of jerry can on the rear of the vehicle.

Stryker MGS

While the ICV is carrying troops, the MGS is your mobile fire support. Although mounting a tank cannon it is not designed to hunt down and take out enemy tanks – that’s what the ATGM carrier is for. Instead the 105mm gun (complete with autoloader) is designed to provide direct fire support to accompanying troops, while sharing the same maintenance requirements and portability as the rest of the BCT. The MGS also has a co-ax M240 and a commander M2, meaning it has basically the same weapon systems as an early M1 Abrams but on a much less protected chassis. To quote a US Army soldier, “Some commanders look at the MGS as a tank,” he says. “I cannot stress enough that it is not a tank; it is a support vehicle with some tank-related features.”

As a wargamer though, this thing is fantastic. Assuming your mission writer has allowed you to do it, the MGS gives you a handy tool when it comes to engaging enemy positions. A 105mm tank gun is plenty powerful when engaging enemy light vehicles and buildings. If you play Skirmish Sangin for example, a tank gun has a huge blast area and does the max damage that game supports. If your rules support it, the MGS can also fire canister rounds when you need to take out enemy infantry. It’s presence is also a nice hit to your opponent’s morale – like any vehicle mounting a tank gun, it does draw the opponent’s focus. Just be glad tiny 28mm soldiers don’t complain about the lack of air conditioning.


Comparison

Of course we can’t look at these vehicles without breaking out the comparison photos:

First up, we have the two vehicles plus reference Empress US Army figures. As you can see, the two variants are incredibly similar seeing as they share the same chassis. The MGS’s turret though is a major height addition.

Looking at the lighter vehicles, you can see the Styker is on the larger size (as you would expect from a vehicle carrying 9 fully equipped soldiers). The other vehicles (all from Spectre) do still have their advantages – the smaller sizes means they can get to places the armoured box can’t.

Going up to the heavy wheeled vehicles you can see the Stryker next to a similar Russian vehicle (although the BTR-80A is armed with an autocannon and carries less soldiers). You can see the BTR has a lower profile compared to the American vehicle. Also I’m banning the M-ATV from future comparisons – it’s just ridiculously big.

Finally we have the big boys. The MGS is a taller vehicle than the Challenger 2 but you can see it’s a smaller footprint (as well as being lighter). In real life, the difference between these platforms is bigger than on the tabletop – most wargamers don’t have to handle the concept of logistics, other than making sure the vehicle gets to the tabletop in one piece.


Conclusion

The Stryker is another one of the iconic GWOT vehicles – something that we hadn’t seen in the Cold War but soon became a star of the evening news. Like most things, it has had it’s problems but they have been improved and tweaked to make it a more effective combat vehicle. While doing my research for this, I kept finding comments about how the Strykers were pretty resistant to being destroyed, more often being able to be recovered and repaired while protecting it’s crew.

The Empress models give a nice balance between detail and simplicity. Assembly was incredibly quick and (once I actually got down to it) painting didn’t take very long. They also look fantastic, much meaner on the tabletop than a column of Humvees.

If you’re wanting your own Strykers, you can pick them up from Empress for a pretty reasonable price. If you’re wanting some of the more recent variants that are being experimented with (such as one mounting a 30mm cannon), you might want to keep your eyes on Wargaming Week over the next few months.


Of course, I really can’t finish the post without bringing up one of the incredible conversions I’ve seen using the Empress vehicle as a base.

Based on Strykers spotted in use in Syria, this one has had some serious plasticard magic done it (WIP photos are on the instagram). With extra weapons and stowage equipped, this vehicle looks spot on!

Technicals – High Speed, High Calibre

One of the more interesting systems you’ll see on technicals is the use of anti-aircraft guns. Requiring a bit more engineering work than a simple PKM or a HMG (unless you want to flip your vehicle) these AAA guns are pretty useful to an irregular force seeing as they are able to easily engage a whole host of targets from infantry to light armoured vehicles to helicopters and aircraft. Spectre have three of these weapons in their range and I’ve finally got round to finishing them off.

Pedestal

A common element of all the AAA weapons is the square pedestal mount. When it arrives from Spectre, each of the four legs has a slight cut out so it fits into the slots in the cargo bed. This makes sure that it gets a proper fit when glued into place. However, with me wanting to hot-swap the elements, this locator lug would probably start ripping through the paintwork. So, as with all my other weapons, I decided to mount on plasti-card pieces

I have three pedestals (one for each of the guns) – for two of them I simply cut out the usual “I” shape out of plasti-card so it fits around the wheel arches. For the final pedestal though, I had something else in mind.

Chopped Pedestal

By default, you can fit the pedestals into the cargo bay of the Technical Bravo chassis by either sticking it on top of the cargo bay or by trimming the legs and sliding it into position. However, both these options are pretty permanent. For hot swapping, I had to do something else. The plan was to cut down the pedestal to fit inside the cargo bay while still having a method to lift it out when changing weapons.

Unfortunately, my cutting wasn’t as precise as perhaps it should have been and so made a bit of a mess. Worse, the trimmed legs ended up not fitting correctly as I had worked off the wrong height for the wheel arches. So I had to re-do it; The intact legs would now rest on the wheel arch while a plasticard framework would hold up the other end. Overall it’s a cheap nasty fix but seeing as I’m close to finishing this project I kind of just wanted to get them done.

As you can see the it works pretty well, with most of the bad construction hidden by the cargo bed. It does mean I can’t mount all three weapons on Technical Alphas but it’s unlikely I’d be using all three of the heavy guns without having access to a Technical Bravo chassis.

ZPU-2

The ZPU-2 is a two barreled version of the 14.5mm KPV machine gun I mentioned in one of the earlier posts. The dual mounting upgrades it with proper anti-aircraft sights and large boxes for each gun to feed from. As you can see above, when it first arrives, there are plenty of pieces to put together. The main thing is getting the central section around the gun barrels and on the base and then work up from there.

Once assembled, the painting was pretty simple. I worked up from various metal shades before topping off with the usual Russian green. I painted the figure up while assembled although I can definitely see the advantage of painting him separately.

ZPU-4

If the two barreled version wasn’t nasty enough, the four barreled variant is designed to get as many rounds as possible down range in a short amount of time. With two massive ammo caskets on either side feeding each barrel and firing 4x the fire rate of a single gun, this is a nightmare to go up against in Spectre and other games.

I covered the basics in the first technicals post so I’ll focus on the painted side. Its the same process as the other Russian guns – metal and Russian uniform. Unlike the other guns, this one has a gunner already attached to the main body of the mounting.

ZU-23

The ZPU works by getting lots of rounds on target. The ZU-23 works by getting rounds on target that cause massive damage to whatever they hit. Rather than slinging the 14.5mm round, this dual barreled auto-cannon fires 23mm rounds with a variety of ammo types such as high explosive and armour-piercing. In game, this makes it very effective against groups of infantry and can even damage light armour and APCs. A real danger to most modern forces.

As with the ZPU-4, this was covered in the initial post back in 2017. One point I didn’t mention is that I seem to be missing the AA sight that sits in front of the gunner – luckily with these being for insurgents it’s easy to imagine it was snapped off at some point. Painting up was similar to the other AA guns.

THE END?

The AA guns are another way to help give the Insurgents a bit more firepower and increase the challenge for the more regular forces. A quad HMG or auto-cannon can really wreck a squad’s day, forcing them to actually use cover and smoke to prevent being caught in the open. It also gives the militia something that can take out vehicles with a bit more reliability than poorly trained troops popping up and firing RPGs. Finally, much like the improvised weapons from last week, these are also something that screams “militia” – they look gloriously ragged on the back of the pickups.

And we these finished, I have now painted up at least one of every weapon system offered by Spectre for their technicals. I’d say at this point, this is the final main Project Technical entry. From working away on these posts, I hope I’ve shown off what you can do with the range, from the conversion to add a PKM gunner for the MENA Regulars up to the heavily laden SF technicals and their massive selection of weapon systems. I’ve now got a nice selection of weapons that I can easily jump into most scenarios and pick out which weapons I want to use depending on the situation at hand. It also means that, I think, I can now fill a board with vehicles.

The real question is what modelling project to work on next. If only there was another range of modular vehicles coming soon to form a project I could really sink my teeth into…

Impressions: Empress M-ATV

One key symbol of the Ultramodern era has been the rise of Mine Resistant vehicles. As improvised explosive device usage increased in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the classic Humvee and Land Rover became unsafe for use by troops on patrol. The MRAP program worked to fix this, creating a selection of vehicles that able to better protect the crew from most IEDs. However, these vehicles were top heavy and less manoeuvrable than the vehicles they replaced, which especially caused issues in Afghanistan. To find a midpoint between the MRAPs and Humvee, Oshkosh developed the M-ATV. For wargamers wanting one of these vehicles on the tabletop, Empress has two versions of this kit available from their store.

As with most Empress vehicle, the M-ATV is combination of resin and metal pieces. Most of the body is big chunks of resin such as the crew cab and chassis while finer details are made of metal. Although there are no instruction provided, assembly is easy enough. Overall the quality on the casting is really nice. I don’t recommend it for newbies though – there were a few gaps to get filled once assembled, especially on the join between the cab and the chassis.

Once all the resin is in place, it’s time to add the details. All of these details are easy to fit, with careful cut outs and placement guides to make assembly simple. This adds on everything from the cameras required for manoeuvring the vehicle to the steps needed to climb up to the doors.

And here is the finished vehicle. Like all my vehicles, it got a desert tan spray and a wash, as well as copious amounts of drybrushing to give it the dirty look. I think my washing brush was a little bit dirty so I might re-do the paint job at some point. However, for now I’m pretty happy with it.

From the rear angle you can see the cargo bay (waiting for me to prepare all the stowage for it). Many of the details on back are siting positions for aerials. You could add these yourself to make the vehicle look even cooler but I think they would last the grand total of 5 seconds before I’d snap them off.

First up, lets see the vehicle against infantry. As you can see, it really towers over them, no matter what brand they are. I really don’t fancy dropping from the crew cab to the ground when disembarking.

Lets take a look at some vehicles performing similar roles – vehicles designed to carry a HMG and a small number of people. As you can see, the M-ATV towers over the Empress Humvee and Technical from Spectre.

I was really surpsied just how bulky the M-ATV is compared to the Challenger 2. The MBT looks almost sleek and speedy.

If you hadn’t guessed, I really like this vehicle. It required a few little tweaks when building but the final effect is awesome. It’s also a very practical vehicle to pick up. Rather than tanks and APCs, the M-ATV and other MRAPs are a relatively common vehicles after their deployment, meaning it will get a lot of use without overpowering every game it gets into. The price is also pretty reasonable for the vehicle – it’s not quite as detailed as a model kit but it’s definitely designed to be a playable game piece like all of Empress’s stuff. One thing I would like to see is a version (or an addon) including the CROWS remote weapon system, which became very common as time moved on.

In fact I liked the kit so much I bought a second one – come back in a few weeks to see my attempt to build the M1245 SF vehicle based off the M-ATV. As for this vehicle, come back on Friday to see it in action.


So that’s talking about the kit. As it comes out the box I think it’s fine but there were a couple of tweaks I did to the vehicle while assembling it. Inspired by some points raised on the Queeg’s rather excellent work on them, I decided to do some adjustments. Now, I’d safely say my hobby skills are journeyman level – not complete beginner but not great. Some of these tweaks look a little rough (especially compared to the Queeg’s stuff) but it was fun to do.

First up, the rear cargo bed. Technically the bed on the Empress version is way too low. It doesn’t provide the same amount of travel on the wheels. However, increasing the height would require adding more details such as the suspension. I’m not that fussed so I decided to raise that vehicle up. I assembled several panels of plasticard to raise it to the correct height, including pips for the locator lugs.

The second tweak was to fill in part of the gap between the rear cargo bay and the main cab. I wasn’t a huge fan of the gap and reference photos seem mixed on how much space there was on the real vehicles. I decided to fill the gap entirely and extended the storage bins backwards. This gives me a larger area to fill with kit once I’ve divvied up my stowage between this one and it’s brother coming soon.

Another tweak was adjust the turret. After clearing the turret of flash, it sat flush with the top of the cab. However, the cab has a lip that was colliding with the bottom of the HMG mount. To fix this, I made a shell out of plasticard to sit in the bottom of the turret well and just make it smoother to turn.

Finally, purely for a visual improvement and based on a stock photo I had seen of the M-ATV, I added some mesh panels to the site. This just makes the rear cargo bay look a bit more practical than it would be if left empty without filling it with plain storage boxes. This mesh was made out of an old sieve, with some careful clipping to avoid sending bits of metal flying round the room. This was then glued into place to the existing frame.

That’s it for the M-ATV but as I mentioned I’m converting a second M-ATV to SF standard. Expect more details in an upcoming article.