Sunday, July 8, 2012

Comments on the Singapore Army's camouflage uniform

Dressed to fight: Singapore Army infantry demonstrate the difference between the old Number 4 combat uniform (right) and the design which replaces it. Source: Singapore Ministry of Defence

It does not take a defence expert to tell which of the two soldiers in the image above blends better in tropical vegetation. The Singapore Army soldier on the left wears camouflage fatigues with an improved blend of green, tan and black hues, colour pattern and uniform design compared to the uniform worn by the soldier on the right, which has a design that is being phased out.

This past week, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) decision to swap the old combat dress, known as the Number 4 uniform, for a uniform with pixelised camouflage patterns came under scrutiny of the Singaporean media. The SAF camouflage uniform came into prominence after reports from the United States said that the US Army was rethinking its US$5 billion, eight-year-long investment in its pixelised Army Combat Uniform (ACU).

Here are some comments on the matter:
1. Singaporean journalists writing about the matter should have been savvy enough to recognise that it centres more on the blend of colours chosen for the ACU, which is principally grey, than the effectiveness of using pixel patterns to help an individual blend in with surrounding terrain. Learn to tell what the fuss is all about before jumping onto the bandwagon.

2. For media officers with the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and staff officers with the 9th Singapore Division/Headquarters Infantry, media queries on the matter are a perfect opportunity to underline the thinking behind the new Number 4. Just pull out the old news releases and talking points and send it across to the mainstream media.

3. It should be clear to commentators who do their homework that MINDEF/SAF does customise when the need arises. The uniform used by SAF personnel serving in arid areas, for instance, is visually different from the Number 4 issued to soldiers locally. As a matter of interest, the uniform worn by soldiers with the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) who serve as enemy simulators is also different.

4. Soldiers who train overseas in places like Australia or New Zealand continue to wear the Number 4 issued locally as their time spent overseas is for training and not an operational deployment. There is a big difference between the two. MINDEF/SAF will make soldiers change their wardrobe if ops/tech planners decree that better camouflage is needed.

5. Assorted comments have been raised on just how well our Number 4 blends into *fill in your choice of terrain*. Let's get this clear: No mass production combat uniform in the world can turn a warfighter into a chameleon and blend the soldier against different terrain.

6. In terms of terminology, a plain olive green or desert tan uniform is a camouflage uniform since the single shade of colour was chosen to serve as camouflage. French troops in World War 1 wore a shade of blue called Horizon Blue to blend them against the skyline when advancing on open ground. The German Army in WW2 was one of the first to use camouflage uniforms with disruptive patterns. US Marines also experimented with a disruptive pattern and used this during the Pacific island-hopping campaign. The Germans recognised that changing European seasons meant that a disruptive pattern which was good in one time of the year may not work a few months later, and so developed a reversible smock with summer/autumn or winter patterns and other creative combinations.

7. One of the most active modern armies has steered clear of using combat fatigues with a disruptive pattern for its regulars, full-time National Servicemen and NSwomen and reservists. Its troops have gone to war wearing a single colour uniform whose shade of green has not changed in the past four decades or so. That country is Israel.  


Anonymous said...

Exactly, what's your point?
Should the SAF revert to the single green colour uniform of old?

Let's be frank, camouflage works only if it helps a soldier merge with his immediate surrounding. Singapore is largely urbanised, so the pixelated uniform would not help when fighting in HDB/built up area. Surely we are not thinking in terms of the limit green areas -like the central catchment, Bukit Timah and reservoir areas? Or are we planning for the 'trip' up north?

You are quite right about the Israelis, and they are reputed to be the most battle ready military in the world as defined by a military force which have constantly seen battle. That's the Israelis.

Anonymous said...

Anon 802pm :

Our national perimeter is jungle foilage. Nuff said.

Afghan deployments get desert camo, what else do you want?

David Boey said...

Dear Anonymous at 8:02 PM,
The point is that certain local media articles made an issue out of the camo uniforms when it was a non-issue in the first place as the SAF had explained its position on this four years ago.

The point about the IDF fatigues is a factoid some of you may find quirky. No need to get your panties in a twist.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

" The point about the IDF fatigues is a factoid "

Factoid! How many pictures have you seen of the IDF soldiers in orther than their version of the olive drab. It is not a factoid that the Israelis are perhaps the best battle prepared military force in the world today by virtue of its continual engagement in battle.

The $60K question is if the IDF can do without all the fanciful uniforms while being battle ready and effective why do we have to follow the US blindly?

Are you aware that the Australian army has been using the same camouflage pattern since the 1970s while we have seen at least THREE pattern changes. And I know for a fact that the Aussies adopted their pattern after their own scientists conducted test to determine its suitability for their own terrain. Now why couldn't we do that?
Any guarantee if the SAF would not change its uniform once again at some future date, in line with the US, Natick Lab recommendation?

Anonymous said...


I would like to hear about your views for the digital BLUE choosen for the RSAF. Does digital blue really helps them to camouflage into the airbase surrounding which happens to be green or the aircrafts that are painted in grey?

Does the ADA guys which operate in the "Green" vehicles really help that to camouflage in the new blue uniform?

Anonymous said...

Too late, I think somebody's panties twisted liao. Anon 10.24: Do some legwork and go read the article 4 years ago and then go read up on pixelated camo and then where the UCP came from. Take a look at the UCP then MARPAT, then tell me if w followed blindly.

IDF has reasons from using plain green. Now go fetch.

Anonymous said...

The pixelised camo for the SAF is appropriate for SE Asian's green terrain. Yes,in case of FIBUA, the green pixelised version may not be the most suitable colour tone b'cos no country have ever established what is the correct colour as a reference! Fact is city surroundings have all sorts of colour as background. Lastly, we have never intended to bring fire fights within our city state. C/S 24S

Bob The Builder said...

The media has forgotten that the pixellised camo has lesser signature when using night vision instruments than the old EDRL style camoflage. The US UCP has the same idea vut however, the US Army wanted a camoflage that can be used in multi terrain ie urban, jungle, desert.

UCP was successful in Iraq's largely urban terrain and the Iraqi Army/Insurgents usage of 1st Gen Soviet NVDs. However, in Afghanistan, the terrain is much open, with a slight forested areas. it stands out like a bull in a China shop. The current OEF camo , Multicam is better, first used by Special Operations Forces.

IMO, camoflage is useless if anything larger than a platoon element is moving across terrain, It is more of a pn importance to recce troops, special forces who require element of stealth and deception in their tactics.

Anonymous said...

SAF (the Army, specifically) teaches NSF this action during basic training - take cover !

Joseph said...

I believe the two new pixelised camo patterns adopted for the Navy and Air Force did not undergo as heavy a battery of scientific tests as the Army pattern did.

I'd posit that the Air Force's blue pattern simply boils down to not being able repeat the use of the colour grey (as adopted by the RSN). It is more likely aimed to function as a psychological bond of different arms of the SAF wearing the same patterns than an actual tactical battlefield advantage. In any case, enemy strafing/bombing runs of air bases will likely target equipment, jets, weapons and materiel.

IniD said...

Maybe because Israel no tree many many, only sand lots lots, so plain uniform lor.

Ah tiong also can said...

Media confuse leh....

before got CB leaf ey saih liow. Now no more.

some more pixel make it hard for their caemra to pick up maybe.

got never tell them SAF is developing "Predator' camo leh?

Ah Tiong also can said...

Forget new camo lah.

So many speckies and we can't have the decency to afford them proper ballistic proof combat glasses.
Instead must follow US blindly and introduce goggles. What for? Swimming ah? Goggles is for dusty theatre like Iraq or Afghan.

Singapore hot and humid, goggle uncomfortable.

Fesyiankonsius said...

I am not particularly enamoured by our decision to lose the belts on the number 1s.

Now our guys look like waiters at Raffles.

Bring back the belts.

Not sure why we need camo for air force and navy techs. Seems a bit waste of money.

For that matter, why do they need to wear army issued boots? So uncomfortable. Malaysian Air force techs are allowed to wear trainers. More practical. Senang lagi boleh.

Anonymous said...

Uniforms have not been the decisive factors in war. Ironically countries wearing a common colour shade has been one of the strongest armed forces to be reckon with. That is Israel and North Korea.

ZZ said...

The pixelised uniforms, especially the blue Air Force and Navy ones, are a gimmick in line with the image of "3Gness" as the Army's beloved theme, and as more people question NS, to present an image of modernity to the public to leave behind the days of brutality to subordinates.

Navy sailors will have to change camo in the only environment they will need it- ashore.. Air bases are awash in vegetation. Even buildings and aircraft shelters are painted green.

Anonymous said...

I wish MINDEF would do more to increse the fighting spirit, loyalty and morale of our boys. This is the decisive factor to win any war. History has demostrated that who you are rather than what you wear result in a decisive victory. Sadly till today, boys wearing pixelised or not uniforms do not understand what they are fighting for.

David Boey said...

Dear Anon at 6:33 PM,
Could also add North Vietnam... almost pure FIBUA by the time the NVA penetrated South Vietnamese cities.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

The pixelised uniform definitely works in Singapore. I almost knocked down a NS boy at a zebra crossing next to one of the parks. I couldn't see him when he was at the kerb and only noticed movement when he stepped onto the road.

Anonymous said...

Practical example, haha! But it is prettyeffective, i remember last incamp walking along the pasir labir back road towards the range and couldnt make out a group of our NS men walking towards my direction on the foot path even though they were quite a fair ways in front of some "ch**bye"(tm) trees. This was around 7am mind you so fairly dark till.

Anonymous said...

Rather strange that the RSN and RSAF need pixelated unifoms. As far as the navy goes, its sailor should be togged in bright read or bright yellow in case they are in water and need to be rescued. What is there to camo on board ship. An enemy fighter or war ship don't take aim at individuals on a ship, their missiles and guns go for the ship/boat/vessel. In the case of the RSAF, the guys who need camo are the anti-aircraft, air field guards, etc, and it shoudl be the army green like the ground troops! Same apply to the ground crews, air crews or pilot.

For the RSN and RSAF it is more like for 'corporate identity' that they want to have their own 'colour'. No different from the other US forces.

Anonymous said...

On the uniform, I do not understand why they put 2 holes on the new boots! Isn't the idea of wearing boots to keep your feet dry?

ZZ said...

The pixelised uniforms, especially the blue Air Force and Navy ones, are a gimmick in line with the image of "3Gness" as the Army's beloved theme, and as more people question NS, to present an image of modernity to the public to leave behind the days of brutality to subordinates.

Navy sailors will have to change camo in the only environment they will need it- ashore. Air bases are awash in vegetation. Even the buildings and aircraft shelters are painted green.

Anonymous said...

" On the uniform, I do not understand why they put 2 holes on the new boots! Isn't the idea of wearing boots to keep your feet dry? "

Good point. As far as I know the two holes near the bottom of the upper can into being during the Vietnam war when US troops very often operates in the vast padi fields of the Mekong Delta and the well watered terrain in then South Vietnam. So the holes help the grants to drain some of the water from the boots without having to lift the leg up high to do it. Of course, by the same token it also allowed water into boots too. I wonder if the bright boys in the Singapore Defence Science Dept have come up with a ONE WAY drain hole? If not than its simply a no-brainer monkey see, monkey do. And I believe the local terrain and even the terrain up north is not as wet as in the delta regions of Vietnam.

Tan said...

In terms of multi-terrain camouflage, the british have a new uniform dubbed MTP (multi-terrain pattern). It blends both the green of bushes and woodland with hues of tan and light browns to make it quite effective in open desert land as well. However, it is simply a product of their current operations (Op HERRICK) in Afghanistan. You're never going to get a perfect camouflage uniform, the best camouflage is a soldier observing his principles of not being spotted and adapting as best he can to minimise his signature. Insurgents in Afghanistan have the "best camouflage" in a sense, dressed as civvis...

Anonymous said...

Holes in boots: The reasoning goes that water can never be fully prevented from entering a boot, and without holes it can't drain out. So better to let it drain out even if it enters faster. Some in SAF have already been drilling holes in their boot soles where they can't be seen.

Anonymous said...


On 26 July 2011, CSM Cheok Thiam Soon wanted to borrow SGD$5000 & promised to return me in 2 days' time.

I was reluctant to lend him, but I was also being pressured by the fact that I needed his signature for my ORD clearance.

Cheok then went on & used his authority by saying, 'Dont worry, I'm your CSM & you'll be able to find me if anything happens.' Therefore, I lent Cheok the sum of money as though I was following an order that my superior gave.

Feb 2012, I filed a Police Report, called up Mindef Hotline & went to LianHeWanBao to seek any form of help there is.

July, I was shocked to hear that Cheok was even promoted from Staff Sergeant to Master Sergeant.

David Boey said...

"Insurgents in Afghanistan have the 'best camouflage' in a sense, dressed as civvis..." Tan, 14 July'12, 1:04AM

Good point. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Feel that the reporters should do a bit more homework, instead of generalizing US Army to the wider US military, and dragging SAF into the picture.

The US army UCP uses only 1 grey pixelated color uniform, while the US marines' pixelated uniform has (at least) 2 color schemes (woodland green and desert brown).

The marines uniform design scheme gives better camouflage. In this sense, the SAF approach is similar to USMC rather than US Army.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how combat proven is the current pixelated Sinigapore uniform. But a Malaysian army veteran I knew who served under the British fighting the Communist Terrorists ("CT) during the later stages of the Emergency in the late 1950s, Confrontation with Indonesia in the 1960s and second Emergency in 1970s, used to swear by the effectiveness of the old olive green uniform in the jungle.

He said that it was probably more effective then later more modern camouflage that the Malaysian army later adopted, and blended in well in the jungle.

He ended up as MIO of 2 states in Malaysia and was instrumental in helping to discover food dumps and ambushing CTs trying to assess those dumps. His unit was trained to stay hidden and camouflaged near the food dumps up to 10 days at a time to track and ambush CTs going to them.

The CTs were past experts in jungle warfare and camouflage, and some of them by the 1970s, had been fighting in the jungle for some 20 years or more. you can imagine how effective the olive green camouflage was if his unit could evade detection by the CTs.

Ahbuden said...

Until so longe before got lobang in boots meh? have to wait for 3G? next thing you tell me must poke hole in armpit for ventilations.

Anonymous said...

Malaysian Army defines 5 operating environments in their country: jungle, bush (includes plantation), plain, coastal and urban. The new SAF (army) uniform will be very effective in the bush and plain through which it will advance.

The old uniform was effective only in the secondary forest in SAF training areas which are not seen in Malaysia. SAF has been getting it all wrong until now.