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.