Singapore Armed Forces pixilated camo combat uniform

Some of you may not be that familiar with the small city-state of Singapore, so some background information might be useful…

According to entries on Wikipedia:  The Republic of Singapore, is an island city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, lying 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator, south of the Malaysian state of Johor and north of Indonesia’s Riau Islands. At 710.2 km2 (274.2 sq mi), Singapore, a microstate and the smallest nation in Southeast Asia, is by orders of magnitude larger than Monaco and Vatican City, the only other surviving sovereign city-states.

The city was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, which Winston Churchill called “Britain’s greatest defeat”. Singapore reverted to British rule in 1945, immediately after the war. Eighteen years later, in 1963, the city, having achieved independence from Britain, merged with Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak to form Malaysia. However, the merger proved unsuccessful and less than two years later, it seceded from the federation and became an independent republic on 9 August 1965. Singapore joined the United Nations on 21 September that same year. It also became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Since independence, Singapore’s standard of living has risen dramatically. Foreign direct investment and a state-led drive to industrialisation based on plans drawn up by the Dutch economist Albert Winsemius have created a modern economy focused on industry, education and urban planning. In fact, Singapore is the 5th wealthiest country in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Earlier this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore the 10th most expensive city in the world in which to live, and the 3rd most expensive Asian city to live in, after the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka.

The population of Singapore is approximately 4.86 million and is highly cosmopolitan and diverse. Chinese people are the ethnic majority, with large populations of Malay, Indian and other people. English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese are the official languages.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) comprises three branches: the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force, and the Republic of Singapore Navy.

The Singapore Army is one of the three services of the Singapore Armed Forces. It is headed by the Chief of Army (COA), currently Major General Neo Kian Hong. The Army focuses on leveraging technology and weapon systems as ‘force-multipliers’ and is currently undergoing transformation into what it terms a ‘3rd-Generation Fighting Force’.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the air force branch, guards the airspace of Singapore. The RSAF was established in 1968 as the Singapore Air Defence Command. It operates four air bases in Singapore and operates its aircraft in several overseas locations in order to provide greater exposure to its pilots. The main aircraft found in its fleet include F-16 Fighting Falcons, CH-47 Chinook and C-130 Hercules.

The final branch, the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), is the navy of the Singapore Armed Forces, responsible for the defence of Singapore against seaborne threats and protection of its sea lines of communications. Operating within the crowded littoral waters of the Singapore Strait, the RSN is regarded as one of the best in the region. The RSN operates from two bases, Tuas Naval Base and Changi Naval Base, and has a large number of vessels, including 4 submarines, 6 frigates, and 4 amphibious transport docks. All commissioned ships of the RSN have a prefix RSS, which means Republic of Singapore Ship.

The transformation of the Singapore Army into a “3rd Generation Fighting Force” has included significant investments across the board to equip the Army with advanced weapons systems – developed indigenously as much as possible.  Many of these Singapore-developed weapons and equipment systems are of outstanding design and have proven popular with foreign users as well.  Others, such as the excellent SAR-21 assault rifle and Ultimax light machine gun, have had a harder time competing against the entrenched market players.

Type 4 Combat Uniform

As of January of this year, another excellent home-grown development has begun to get issued to the troops of the Singapore Army – their new Type 4 Combat Uniform in a pixilated camouflage pattern.  Which, whilst it might at first appear to be derived from or inspired as usual by CADPAT/MARPAT, closer inspection reveals that the pattern is actually quite distinctive – and clearly optimised for use in the tropical regions where the SAF expects to conduct operations.

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The full explanation from the Singapore Army is that becuase of the advanced surveillance equipment and weapon optics in use today, soldiers face a greater risk of detection in combat. Recognising this, the Singapore Army and the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) jointly developed the new SAF combat uniform with an enhanced camouflage pattern to reduce detection – based on the science of human visual performance and visual biophysics.  Research was done to see how the defined boundary lines in the current camouflage pattern could be replaced to improve the camouflage capability of the combat uniform. Pixels were used to break up boundary lines and to generate a quivering effect. This affects the ability of the eye to see solid lines and the brain to detect recognisable shapes, resulting in a slower detection rate of the pixelised camouflage pattern at short distances (micro-pattern). Viewed at longer distances, the pixelised camouflage works just like the traditional camouflage which comprises pattern shapes (macro-pattern).

Further research was done to determine the combination of colour and shades used in the new combat uniform. The research involved capturing images in various operating environments at different distances and lighting conditions, for feature analysis and colour selection. These images were segmented into pixels to generate the patterns used in the uniform’s design. Field trials were then conducted to fine-tune the design and colour of the camouflage patterns.

Finally, it was noted that night vision devices negated the effects of pixelisation by showing all colours in the camouflage pattern as a single tone. To counter detection by night vision devices, the material used in the new SAF combat uniform was given Near Infra-red (NIR) treatment to ensure that every colour in the camouflage pattern reflected a different wavelength. This maintains the pixelised camouflage effect when viewed through night vision devices.

The trials involving different terrain and distances in both day and night conditions showed that the new camouflage pattern was significantly more effective than the current one.

So, however much it may or may not resemble CADPAT/MARPAT, one thing is for certain – it clearly performs better in the jungle than the “Woodland/Leaf Pattern” combat uniform it is replacing. 

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But, as soon as you stick a big black rifle/grenade launcher combo out in front of yourself, you do tend to lose a bit of the advantage of that superior camouflage…

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Depending on the terrain, viewing range, lighting and climatic conditions, the Singapore Army claims “a 30 to 50 per cent enhancement in the soldier’s camouflage capability.” 

03sep08_photos_-imindefpars-00010-textimage_imindefparstextimage  Improving the soldiers’ comfort was another important design consideration, and to this end the uniform uses a new lighter fabric which is highly permeable and has a high wicking capability.  This fabric provides better air flow, which in turn allows faster heat dissapation, and it dries twice as fast as the old uniform when wet. Very important considerations for operating in the hot humid environment of South-East Asia.

The new combat uniform is designed to be highly functional as well. It aims to ergonomically integrate with the soldier’s personal equipment by eliminating pressure points on the soldier’s body and protecting it against abrasion from the use of body armour. It also allows for knee and elbow guards to be secured to the uniform and has additional pockets for storage.

Other noteworthy features of the new uniform include:

  • Buttons and velcro combination relieves stress points on chest when body armour is worn.

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  • Shoulder straps were removed to eliminate stress point on shoulders when carrying a combat load.

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  • Chest-mounted epaulette position for easy identification.

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  • Mandarin collar protects soldier from abrasion caused by rifle sling.

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  • Inward buttoning on sleeves prevents entanglement with foreign objects.

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  • Side pockets are pleated to provide comfort when filled, while slanted angle facilitates access in sitting position. Internal pouch within side pocket included for storage of small accessories.

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  • Additional inner material reduces abrasion to groin region.

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  • Adjustable fastening slits and velcro holder secure position of elbow and knee guards.

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  • Shirt can be folded up as an improvised triangular bandage for injured elbow.

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New recruits began to be issued the new uniform in January of this year, and the rest of the Army will be equipped on a rolling basis over the next three years.

A new range of individual load-carrying gear – plus a new armoured vest and other experimental equipment for the Singapore Army’s Soldier of the Future program – has also been produced.  A good batch of photographs of this equipment can be found here.

*UPDATE*  SAF personnel attached to an Australian medical unit serving with ISAF have been spotted recently, wearing a desert version of the new SAF digicam.



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