Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guide to Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) MID vehicle number plates

"Sedikit sedikit, 
Lama lama,
Menjadi bukit"

First on the list: The number plate 1 MID is reserved for high-ranking dignitaries hosted by the Singaporean Ministry of Defence. The car itself is believed to have its own civilian registration and is thought to be supplied by a civilian contractor. Fun fact: It is plated 1 MID just for the occasion by attaching the special plate with rubber bands (just visible)!

This guide is based on an assessment of more than 5,000 individual number plate identities for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) vehicles compiled by yours truly over many years.

The database is a labour of love bordering on obsession that pulls together pictures and notes taken of SAF vehicles seen on public roads or during open houses/events organised by the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Air Force and Republic of Singapore Navy.

Readers with no inkling of SAF number plates should be relatively conversant by the time you reach the end of this post.

As you read this, please be aware there are exceptions to every guideline noted. These have been flagged out with pictures to help you understand the exceptions to what is generally observed.

Background to MID number plates
All wheeled and tracked SAF vehicles are identified by an alpha-numeric code on number plates carried on the front and rear of the vehicle. The same applies to equipment designed to be towed like cargo trailers and LAMBE landmine clearing device, which fall outside the scope of this discussion.

The three letters that Singaporeans and SAF observers commonly link with SAF vehicles are MID. These letters are drawn from the initials for the Ministry of the Interior and Defence (MID), the ministry set up after Singapore became independent on 9 August 1965. This ministry was the forerunner to the present-day Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and eventually hived off its home affairs functions to a separate ministry known as the Ministry of Home Affairs, which groups vehicles for the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Police Force and other Home Team agencies that oversee drug enforcement, immigration and so on.

Seldom seen number plate: Few SAF servicemen would have seen the Iveco-Fiat light truck above as it was not chosen for SAF Guards battalions after field trials, during which it carried the 9923 MID number plate. We find the vehicle interesting as it was marked with both types of MID number plate naming styles - 9923 MID on the front and MID 9923 on the rear (most MID-plate vehicles stick to one naming conventional for front and rear plates). Enthusiasts would note that the 992x-series is a special plate. Note the three-axle Land Rover Defender alongside - another rarity that can send one's heart aflutter.

The naming convention for MID number plates is interesting because variations have been noted on different vehicles. SAF vehicles have been observed with the xxxxx MID sequence and the MID xxxxx sequence.

At the risk of sounding eccentric, we would like to point out that the sign a towing vehicle displays (see example above) to indicate the SAF vehicle which is on tow uses the naming convention MID xxxxx - which is a point we find noteworthy as the vast majority of SAF number plates are of the xxxxx MID variety.

There have also been rare instances when a single vehicle was seen with both naming conventions. For SAF number plate collectors, occasions when such unique vehicles are seen on the road never fail to generate some excitement (to put it mildly).

Exceptional: RSAF aircraft tow tractors registered using both types of naming conventions. The tractor in the middle is interesting as it is one of the few SAF vehicles with a suffix to the vehicle number.

The MID naming convention is not the only alpha-numeric system adopted by MINDEF/SAF. Exceptions include SAF vehicles thought to have been registered with civilian licence plates (scroll all the way to the end) as well as a naming convention unique to SAF war horses deployed in Afghanistan which adopted the naming convention with the letters SAF followed by a number.

There are further exceptions to the alpha-numeric guideline. For instance, AMX-13 light tanks were identified by four-digit numbers. When upgraded to SM1 standard in the late 1980s under Project A, each light tank received a five-digit number with no accompanying letters. Other SAF A-vehicles have also been noted with just numbers as their identifier.

Number plate colours and fonts
Regardless of naming convention, the vehicle identities usually appear on number plates comprising white letters on a black background.

Different typeface: Seen here on Singapore Artillery hardware are two types of number plate font styles. The laminated letters on the HIMARS vehicle are noticeably different from the stencil type font displayed on 55048 MID, which is a Primus 155mm SPG. Compare and contrast the font used on the Primus with the narrow type stencil font below sprayed on an AMX-10. 

The type face is usually of the sans serif font. The different font types observed indicate some latitude given to SAF units and vehicle suppliers when making number plates.

The majority of armoured vehicles have their number plates sprayed on using templates. These are identified by the stencil type font of which there are at least three different type faces. Again, there are exceptions such as the MaxxPro MRAPs which carried embossed aluminium number plates with raised silver lettering on a satin finish black background.

Numbering convention
The smallest number on an SAF vehicle seen thus far is the numeral 1. Vehicles include 1 MID, which is a staff car number for high-ranking visitors (not the Minister for Defence or SAF generals) and SAF 1.

The MaxxPro MRAP SAF 8 (above) carries a stamped aluminium number plate with embossed lettering, matt silver on a satin black finish. Notice the thin silver border on the number plate, unique to this class of armoured vehicle.

The SAF 8 identifier was used only in Afghanistan when the vehicle was deployed for Operation Blue Ridge. It is not know why the SAF had to start a new naming convention as the pair of Singapore Artillery ARTHURs MID 56331 and MID 56332 sent for OBR kept their usual MID number plates.

From Singapore's independence till the late 1980s, SAF vehicles were noted with four-digit number plates. The 10000 barrier was broken not with the Iveco-Fiat three tonners, as is generally believed, but with passenger buses that served the RSAF (example 10001 MID) and the Singapore Army.

The upgrade for M-113s resulted in vehicles in the 4400 MID-series and 6000 MID-series tagged with a five-digit alpha-numeric number that had no apparent link with the previous identifier.

To date, no SAF vehicle has been observed with a six-digit number plate. But should you know of any, please let us know!

The vehicle type with the highest number plate series is the Terrex. These have been observed with plates starting from 99000 MID. Interestingly, while the first Terrex unveiled by former Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean in 2009 carried the number plate 99001 MID, another Terrex has been observed with the 99000 MID. The latter is believed to be the first Terrex to have rolled off the Singapore Technologies Kinetics production line.

Series starters
On that note, we come to series starters. We define these as the first vehicle which kicks off a new numbering sequence.

A number of series starters have been identified over the years. These include the series starter for the Primus 155mm self-propelled guns, which was found during an artillery live-fire exercise during Exercise Wallaby in Queensland, Australia. This was done by the simple expedient of walking among the battery between salvos (behind the gun muzzles, obviously), which was an interesting experience to say the least.

Finding the series starter 55000 MID - the first Primus - and meeting its crew was a memorable experience because one doesn't always chance upon series starters.

Same but different: The Bionix IFVs seen here can be readily distinguished by their different number plate sequences. It was number plate tracking which raised the question why the BX2s were assigned different numerical sequences. For those of you who know, the roles for both types of BXs are quite different!

All SAF full-time National Servicemen (NSF) and Operationally-Ready NSmen (i.e. reservists) entrusted with SAF vehicles would probably known that the type of vehicle can be discerned from the numbering sequence. See for example the two BXs pictured above.

This is why every occasion to see an SAF vehicle in public should be treasured.

The day you tell yourself you don't have to see a certain vehicle because you have seen it before is the day the database loses its value because one has let slip an opportunity to refresh and revalidate raw data.

No number plate is too insignificant. All SAF vehicles are head-turners, whether they are GP cars or something more menacing.

Every contribution contributes to better awareness of how vehicles are identified. And the learning journey and search for new numbers must be relentless.

Low profile: It is intriguing to speculate why this EOD vehicle carries a number plate with civilian registration and why a G, P or Y plate was not assigned. If low signature was one objective, this is defeated by the letters on the front of the vehicle. Other EOD vehicles in 36 SCE's stable carry the usual MID plates.
Special duty: Here's one that baffled us. 37001 MID with no formation sign, reinforced front bumper, side steps and roof rack suggest has a special role after the bells and whistles are added. This type of Mercedes-Benz G wagen was also seen with civilian registration.

On that note, we come to SAF vehicles seen with vehicle registrations usually associated with civilian vehicles. Different types of vehicles used by the Commandos and Singapore Combat Engineers have been seen with such number plates.

It is thought that civilian registrations add to the low signature when such vehicles are deployed for situations in public areas.

The variations you see here show why this blog finds the subject so fascinating.

You will never see them all during your lifetime, but there's always one more SAF number plate just waiting to be discovered which can shed light on the nomenclature adopted for the SAF's war horses.

You may also like:
Guide to radars and defence equipment on HDB flats. Click here

With grateful thanks to SAF number plate enthusiasts who, over the years, contributed pictures and tipoffs of SAF vehicles seen in public areas.


SAF Land Rover Discovery, unit unknown. Picture posted in response to the anonymous comment, 11 Aug'13 time stamp 12:14 AM below.


TheSounDOne said...

i supposed what we learn from this blog post can be applied to RSAF aircraft?

Anonymous said...


klchew said...

Just out of curiosity, does the Singapore military still hand a red flag on vehicles carrying live ammo? Its a old safety precaution from the British rule era and it still applies to Malaysian military vehicles carrying live ammo.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

More than the red flag display, Explosive hazard code like 1.1A have to be displayed too.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info guys. Just another aside, I'm not sure if its still the case but any private sector lorries or transport in Malaysia which were contracted to carry live ammo or dynamite (or such like), had to have the red flag display too.

The problem was, I don't think many Malaysian drivers knew the significance of the red flag display and they would still tailgate such vehicles!

Anonymous said...

Most drivers here don't get the meaning of the red flag either.

Over here, a red flag is simply a licence to have a ladder or a pipe sticking out of the lorry.

KL Chew said...

Think the same happens in Malaysia too.

I first heard of the red flag display rule from my Dad who used to run a transport company in KL. He told me that during the Emergency in the 1950s, the British used to hire lorries to transport live ammo from KL to the north. They would travel in convoys, guarded by military and police escorts as they would be prime targets for the CTs.

He also told me that the SOP for any ambushes at that time, whether or not the lorries were carrying ammo were to abandon the lorries and hide in the jungle. As it was only an Emergency and war never officially declared, you could claim insurance for any loss of cargo or lorry due to attacks by the CTs! Doubt you could do the same nowadays.

Just an aside, my Dad told me that during the Emergency, rules about storage and transport of live ammo were very relaxed. I suppose that it had to be when there was actually a shooting war.

For instance, he had a British officer friend who used to drop by his house whenever he was in town. Always carrying a briefcase. After dinner and drinks, he would take his paperwork out to work on. My Dad always remembered vividly that in the briefcase, besides from the paperwork, would be a Webley revolver, box of bullets and a few grenades!

The officer would always charmingly tell my Dad that you could never be too careful. Oh, my Dad could not speak any English as he was chinese educated. But the officer was a fluent Cantonese speaker and could also speak some basic Hokkien.

Anonymous said...

KL Chew, very interesting historical views. I would love to see more of you. Are you active on other forums?

About officers with firearms, we in Singapore still have officers in G2 who are authorized to go about their duties with sidearms. It makes an impression when they go to another camp to attend meetings while wearing one.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your kind reply. I am active on a few forums but not that much on military matters in Singapore. Although dear to my heart, I do tend to hold quite old fashioned views.

Oh, I hope the following view which I wrote for a recent Yahoo Answers Poll regarding woman serving NS might be of some interest. I note that many Singaporeans wrote in based on views about women in the military in Western countries and also based on women serving the military in Singapore. My view, well the view of a late Malaysian MIO, is based on the combat effectiveness of female Chinese CTs during the First and Second Emergencies in Malaya, from the 1950s to the 1970s.

I knew a Malaysian Military Intelligence Officer ("MIO") who served with the British Army at the height of the Malaysian Emergency from the mid 1950s, than with the Malaysian Army during the Confrontation with Indonesia during the 1960s, before fighting the Communists Terrorists ("CT") again during the 1970s during the Second Emergency.

CTs were usually male but there were quite a number of females too (90% of CTs were of Chinese ethnicity). These female CTs fought alongside their male comrades in the thick of battle in the Malayan jungle. Some of them were even leaders and officers.

This MOI told me that of all the CTs, the female CTs were usually more deadly than the male CTs. He explained that as a MIO, part of his duty was to "crack" CTs as well as to turn them in order to gain intelligence about CT activities. He said that it was almost impossible to crack or turn a female CT. It was possible to crack or turn a male CT, given time and incentives (interestingly, simple bribery, such as a monetary reward for any CT caught would usually do the trick). However, in his experience, try as they might, they could never seem to crack a female CT.

Female CTs were prepared to die for their cause, no matter what you did to them. And he said no matter what!

The MIO told me of a time he lead a patrol which ambushed a CT patrol in the jungle. Amongst the CTs, was a heavily pregnant CT female. She charged a Malay soldier with a parang, and the soldier froze because he never expected that a heavily pregnant female could do that. Luckily for him, another soldier noticed what was going on and manage to get off a shot which knocked her down. But she got up and tried to charge the soldier again. The MIO who was nearby, had to finish her off with a shotgun blast!

In his opinion, female soldiers were as good as male soldiers, perhaps better because they could be more focused and utterly ruthless, as his own experience had shown. He also told me that female Vietcongs were some of the most effective fighters during the Vietnam War. This was related to him by some American soldiers that he helped train in jungle warfare in Malaysia during the course of the Vietnam War.

The Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia at that time in the 1960s and 1970s was the premier jungle warfare school in the world. It was run by the British with assistance from the Malaysian military and one of the highlights of the training were Gurkha soldiers who acted as the enemy during the training.

Just to add, this MIO had an interesting connection with Singapore. While serving during the Confrontation, he was actually an officer with the Malaysian Infantry Regiment at the time Singapore became independent. He told me that every officer was given a personal request by the Singapore Government to stay on the with the Regiment, with the promise of increased benefits and faster promotion when it became the Singapore Infantry Regiment.

However, he and a number of other officers, decided not to. My impression was that they refused because they wanted to continuing serving in a combat role.

David Boey said...

Dear KL Chew,
What a fascinating sidetrack from an offbeat post on SAF number plates. Thank you for sharing.

FYI, female LTTE cadres were known to be fanatical too.

The discussion may call for a post on the role of women in the SAF. This topic was in the spotlight south of the Causeway lately.

Will explore a post on NS in Israel, as suggested by one of you, after some groundwork is done.

We continue to keep our ears open for gossip on the RSN's new class of warship.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I've also seen black Land Rover Discovery (not Defender) carrying MID plates...

Anonymous said...

the G-wagons are used by the SOF.

David Boey said...

Dear Anon 11 Aug'13 12:14 AM,
Thank you for sharing your observation. It is much appreciated.

Have added an addendum with a picture of a black Land Rover Discovery seen with MID number plates in a public area. The number end with "5".

Is this the one you saw? If you saw one with another registration, please email details. :)

Best regards,


AL said...

Are the G wagons still in use? That would make them almost 20 yr old, having seen them in the late 90s! Then again those I saw could have been older models ;P

Anonymous said...

David, what is the meaning of the green spot on the EOD vehicle and where was it observed? I notice it on airside vehicles at Changi airport.

Anonymous said...

KL Chew, thank you so much for sharing, it is definitely of interest to me. About your reply:

About the Singapore government requesting those in the Malaysian Infantry Regiment to stay on. I understand that units in the Malaysian and Singapore armed forces represented the ethnic makeup of the country at the time, with the addition of British and Australian officers. How did this fit with the government's practice in the early days when we did not conscript those of a certain race, and even today we conscript them mostly into the Civil Defence?

I suppose when making promises, one must see who is making them.

About the Malaysian Infantry Regiment which became Singapore's SIR. Am I correct that the Malaysian army from 1963-65 had three infantry regiments by names of RAMD, Rangers (later RRD) and MIR, and after Singapore left in 1965 chose to expand only the first two infantry regiments?

Btw I hope The New Village eventually gets the green light.

KL Chew said...

As I understand it, the Malaysian Infantry Regiment (MIR) was originally the Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) and formed in 1957 when the British was giving independence to Malaya and self governance to Singapore. It became the MIR when Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963 and reverted back to SIR when Singapore left Malaysia in 1965.

Originally, SIR was only open to Singapore citizens or those born and bred in Singapore. With the incorporation into Malaysia, non-Singaporean officers and NCOs were seconded to SIR, and SIR was brought into action during the Confrontation. Unfortunately, the only time they saw action was after the disaster in the mid 1965 Kota Tinggi incident when 8 soldiers from 2SIR were ambushed and killed bathing without any sentries or rifles!

When Singapore left Malaysia in 1965, there were basically 3 infantry regiments which were actually not really multiracial as such. Malay regiment only took in Malays. Ranger Regiment at that time was still mostly East Malaysians, in particular, Ibans from Sarawak. Until recently, the Ranger Regiment was nicknamed the Iban Regiment. It is the only multi-racial regular infantry regiment in the Malaysian Army today. The Territorial Army (Rejimen Askar Wataniah) is the other multi racial infantry regiment and is basically the Malaysian Army Reserves. The MIR (later SIR) was limited to Singaporeans only.

The only really multiracial regular infantry regiment from inception was the Federation Regiment (1952-1960). Founded by General Templar himself and later led by Templar's 12 who did sterling service and later formed the core of the Malaysian Army officer corp.

The present Malaysian Army cannot be said to represent the ethnic make up of Malaysia. Many non-Malay officers are bypassed in favour of Malay officers, no matter how well qualified and experienced they are. In general, if you a Chinese, Indian or Eurasian, the last substantial rank would be that of Major in the infantry and Captain in the Navy. Even the Bumiputras, ie. Ibans who still form the core of the Rangers, are bypassed in favour of Malay officers.

Please read this article and the comments.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I understand that the other Bumiputras, who unlike the Chinese have not given up on joining the military, are especially angry about this. Even some Malay veterans of the early years are disgusted.

My question was that at time of Malaysia's formation the MIR was racially diverse and included Malays. How did Singapore go about persuading these MIR members to stay, given the policies that Singapore had at the time and still has in some form?

KL Chew said...

Oh ok, got your point. I'm not sure as to what the Singapore government did to persuade MIR regulars to stay on in 1965.

My recollection of what the MIO told me (he was an Eurasian officer but not Singaporean born or citizen) was that he been seconded to MIR at that time and he was based in Singapore. In the weeks following independence, all the regular officers who were non-Singaporeans where given a letter by the new Singapore government requesting them to stay on in the new SIR.

I think he said that they were promised promotions and increased pay, with citizenship. I do not know if the offer was specifically targeted to non-Malays as I never asked him about that. But from what I could gather from his recollections with me, I think it was a general offer to all MIR regulars. Singapore needed them at that time.

I used to see adverts by the Singaporean government in the Malaysian press for police and I think military positions up to the 1980s, with citizenship as a benefit. So, it was quite usual. at that time.

David Boey said...

Dear Anon 14 Aug'13 11:59 PM,
The 152mm green roundel with 25mm white border ("green spot") indicates the vehicle has an Airfield Vehicle Permit, which allows it to enter an aerodrome.

Best regards,