Shanghai Dragon 1/700 USS Conolly

Spruance Class ABL Destroyer
Reviewed by Jeff Hughes
The USS Conolly was one of only 7 Spruance Class Destroyers fitted with two 4 cell armor box launchers (ABL) for the Tomahawk cruise-missile. More ships had been anticipated to receive ABL's but the reactivated Iowa Class battleships took precedence in receiving the launchers. The remainder of the Spruance Class was then scheduled to receive the higher capacity vertical launch system. The test ship for the ABL was the USS Merrill (DD 976) in 1979. The Spruance Class was the largest post-WWII US destroyer program with 31 units constructed. The Spruance hull is also used on the Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers and the Kidd Class DDG. The Spruances where the first US warships to use the gas turbine as a source of propulsion. They can reach top speed in 53 seconds from 12 knots. They where designed to hunt submarines during the cold war and as such incorporated numerous silencing innovations that where utilized for future USN warships. The Spruance Class has always been criticized for not having enough weapons for their displacement. The addition of the ABL's or the Mk. 61 vertical launch system changed the role of the Spruance Class by enabling it to participate in forward strikes instead of providing just area ASW protection and intelligence gathering.

The Dragon kit depicts the class before the aft hangers where enlarged. The enlargement enabled the class to carry two SH-60B Seahawks.  Originally the class carried either two SH-2F Seasprite or one Sea King, occasionally the class has carried Marine CH-46 for commando raids and AH-1W SeaCobras for support. The Spruance Class is a very stable helicopter platform due to the location of the helicopter pad.

In the early 1990's the ASROC launchers where removed from most all of the class as were the Tomahawk missiles from the ABL even though the ABL's remained on the ships. The following ships received the ABL's

DD 974 Comte De Grasse
DD 976 Merrill
DD 979 Conolly
DD 983 John Rodgers
DD 984 Leftwich
DD 989 Deyo
DD 990 Ingersoll
DD 986 Harry W. Hill is the only ship of the class not to receive either the ABL or the Mk. 41 VLS.

This kit can also be used to build the Kidd Class DDG's with lots of scratch building. The Standard missile launchers are supplied on the sprue with the hull.  This sprue is the same as in the Ticonderoga Class kit. 

This kit was originally designed by Skywave and marketed as several different variants of the Spruance Class. The molds were later sold to Dragon where it received a lower hull option and to date is only marketed as the ABL ships. If you want to build a VLS version you will either need to find the Skywave Spruance kit (I am honestly not sure if other kits contained the VLS or not) or one of the Ticonderoga Class kits by either Skywave, Dragon or ARII and borrow the forward VLS piece. The rear VLS is not angled correctly to fit on the forward deck although with some modification I am sure you could easily make the rear VLS work.
The hull has some sink marks that will need fixing.  The forward part of the deck will need to be added and the seam hidden, be careful here not to sand off the surrounding deck detail.
The fit of the superstructure is not the best but not hard to correct with a good file, some of your favorite putty and paint.  The detail is abundant
and pretty accurate.  There is very little flash and the molding is crisp. The helicopter-landing pad has raised lines, these are not needed as the decals provide these lines and if you want the decal to lay flat these lines must be sanded off.  The hanger doors can be modeled in the open or closed position.  An interior of the hanger is included and is pretty sparse on detail but without a magnifying glass who will see it anyway.
Unfortunately, this kit does not come with the wonderful modern weapons sprue.  The weapons, radars, ships boats and misc. other items are molded on the 'A' sprue.  The CIWS barrel is overscaled and best replaced with a piece of brass rod, and the Harpoon launchers while not bad at all have been improved upon by Skywave in their latest rendition of the modern weapons sprue.  The radars are not bad for plastic but if replaced by PE will really come alive.  Ships boats are okay and are generally lacking in detail but adequate.

The masts are a little overscaled but not bad.  Part 16B will really need to be modified.  It is the forward mast and it has the support braces molded on solid.  It is not too difficult to remove the solid areas or the entire supports and replace with brass rod.  This modification will make a huge difference in the appearance of your model.  This also holds true for 7B, although removal of the excess plastic is almost impossible, remove it all and use brass rod.  One slight problem with this kit is the fact that sprue A and C are labeled as such but B is not.  This of course will not affect the construction of the model, well I hope it doesn't.

The lower hull goes together nicely with no sink marks.  The problem occurs when you try to match the lower and upper hull pieces, they do not fit perfectly.  The lower hull is too short, my advice would be to make the front of the ships hull match and use putty and/or styrene sheet to build up the stern then sand to match.  Having never seen the propellers of a Spruance Class DD I can not comment on their accuracy but they look okay to me.  After market ones are available. 

Remember this class has gone through many modifications during their service lives, find a picture of the ship you want to model and follow it.

The decals provided really only can be used for the USS Conolly, DD 979. The other hull numbers given, DD 980, 981, & 983 can only be used if you choose to leave the ABL off and depict the ship before the VLS was installed.  Not sure why the modeling community believes these ships had the ABL, my sources indicate they never did.  If I am incorrect please email me and let me know. Other than this the decals provided will enhance your model.  The only difficulty will be installing the forward and aft warning circles for the 5" guns.  I have found it best to trim these in at least two parts to aid in their correct installation.
The instructions are pretty well done and include several exploded views as well as a parts list. 
A painting guide gives the markings for the ABL Destroyers using Gunze Sangyo Mr. Colour and Italeri Paint No.  Since I do not use these types of paints I can not comment on their correctness. Modern USN ships are painted in haze grey for all vertical surfaces and the anti skid on the decks is painted deck grey.  According to the paint experts - Snyder & Short Enterprises they like the following FS numbers for the modern USN colors. 

Haze Gray: FS 36270 (26270 for scale effect)
Deck Gray: FS 36008 (26176 for scale effect)

Flagship Models makes a Ticonderoga Spruance Class PE set dedicated to this class.  Gold Medal Models has a generic kit that includes items specific for this kit.
This is an excellent kit that can be build into a really winner.  It is not a kit that can be put together in a night though, the deck structures will take sometime to construct correctly.  For the price, this Dragon kit it is a real bargain.

For those wanting to know more about the Spruance Class Destroyers please find a copy of the book by Captain Michael C. Potter, Electronic  Greyhounds by the Naval Institute Press.  I found it pretty easy reading and  it really gives insight into modern naval construction and the  decisions/compromises that must be made.  I have a new found appreciation for this class of destroyer after reading the book. 

Links and references:
  • Navsource DD-979 page
  • The Naval Institutes Guide to Combat Fleets of the World 1995, compiled by A.D. Baker III
  • Naval Institute Press:  Electronic Greyhounds, The Spruance-Class Destroyers, Capt. Michael C. Potter