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Projectile Protectors – Half I: Armor Plates

According to the Small Arms Survey, American civilians owned an estimated 393 million firearms in 2018 — that quantity has undoubtedly grown significantly in post-COVID years. The overwhelming majority of these firearms won’t ever be used maliciously towards one other human being, however as with every device, some will inevitably be misused to hurt the harmless. For those who take into account your self a ready particular person, are involved with defending your loved ones from violence, have an lively shooter plan, or are only a firearms fanatic — and I think about you’re one or all this stuff in the event you’re studying this journal — it’s best to significantly take into account proudly owning a set of physique armor, or “plates” as they’re usually referred to.

Illustration showing the protective coverage armored plates give to an adult.

Above: Ideally, your entrance armor plate ought to be positioned just below the notch on the high of your sternum and ought to be no less than large sufficient to cowl each nipples.

With advances in ballistic know-how, rumblings about laws banning civilian physique armor possession, and up to date violent crimes across the nation, accountable and discerning residents are contemplating their want for physique armor greater than ever. As with most massive purchases and aggressive industries although, there’s a litany of misinformation, snake-oil, and rankings that frankly confuse the patron. Right now, I’d like to chop by the advertising jargon and discuss real-world efficiency and purposes of physique armor. I’ll additionally define the totally different supplies that plates are constructed from and their trade-offs and clarify the totally different ranking methods related to physique armor.

Whereas researching this text, I spoke with a number of totally different firms to get diversified views on this historic know-how, which dates again to the Mycenaean space round 1400 BCE.

Forms of Armor

Jeremy Grey, former president of HESCO, gave essentially the most concise rationalization of physique armor I’ve ever heard: “Armor is a mechanical system designed to fail.” It defeats ballistic threats (primarily bullets) by doing considered one of two issues: abrading the projectile or shattering it.

Metal armor primarily shatters the bullet. However as all of us (ought to) have discovered in highschool physics, a pair issues occur in consequence. Vitality is rarely created or destroyed; on this state of affairs, it’s transferred. A few of that vitality is the punch you’d really feel when the armor takes a success, however most of that vitality makes the spherical explode on affect, sending spall — tiny lead, copper, or metal fragments — all over the place. “All over the place” can embrace your face, head, neck, or different less-than-ideal places. Secondly, for each response there’s an equal however reverse response. So, for the vitality to be absorbed, it should go someplace. Hopefully, most of it’s transferred into the plate and never your physique cavity.

Director of Particular Tasks at Survival Armor Gary Hughes defined:

“AR500 Metal plates have develop into common due to their low price and their relative thinness and, most of all, probably due to their availability to the mass client market. This is similar heat-treated metal that’s utilized in various thicknesses for metal targets. Your common ¼-inch-thick, AR500 metal rifle plate will cross an NIJ Degree III certification, and plenty of producers have chosen to take action.

“As talked about above, nonetheless, that can not be the one consideration, as a result of metal private protecting inserts have a few main downsides.

“In my view, the most important of those is that it has a horrible Achilles’ heel. It won’t cease 5.56 M193 55-grain FMJBT [full metal jacket boat tail] ammo out of a 20-inch rifle barrel. Oftentimes, it would cease it out of a carbine, SBR or pistol-length barrel, however a rifle-length-
barrel AR-15 will eat [through] it. We’re speaking holes that seem like they have been professionally put there.”

Gunnery Sgt. Sean M. Dempsey, a platoon commander from Jersey City, N.J., assigned to Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, shows off the bullet hole in his small-arms protective insert. Dempsey was shot in the back by an insurgent and walked away with only a bruise on his back.

Above: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Sean M. Dempsey exhibits off the outlet within the armor plate that saved his life. He was shot within the again by an rebel in Iraq and walked away with solely a bruise. (Picture by way of U.S. Division of Protection)

Primarily, Hughes commented, some savvy gun guys or Eugene Stoner purists maintain 20-inch AR rifles round, and people can simply defeat AR500 plates together with your commonplace 55-grain plinking spherical. Moreover, and extra pointedly, bullets shatter on metal. Consequently, many producers coat their plates in aramid — the identical compound used to line truck beds — to attempt to seize the spall. There are particular metal plates, Hughes defined, which can be designed particularly to mitigate a M193 cartridge touring at 3,250 ft per second. Nevertheless, these usually are not the run-of-the-mill, low-budget metal plates you’ll discover at most retailers. Hughes doesn’t usually advocate metal plates in any respect, however in the event you insist on shopping for some, he says you “ought to be taking a look at AR1000 or 647 hardness plates.”

Many traditionalists will declare that metal is the usual, and fashionable supplies like polyethylene (“poly”) plates or ceramic plates are merely fads. Nevertheless, with improvements in ballistic know-how, these plates have their advantages over their steel-clad brethren; they’re lighter, for one, and cease a wider array of threats, particularly a number of hits. After all, lots of the diehard metal followers would be the first to level out that with poly or ceramic plates you possibly can’t stack rounds on high of each other.
Whereas this can be true, in the event you’re standing there letting somebody shoot you in the identical place repeatedly, one thing, someplace, has gone horribly mistaken. It’s smart to contemplate the probably situations beneath which your armor will probably be shot in the actual world and select armor accordingly.

Studio photo of an armor plate carrier.

Above: These plate carriers from Tyr Tactical exhibit two variations in armor integration. The minimalist PICO-DS (left, additionally pictured on this article’s lead photograph) solely carries onerous ceramic plates, whereas the EPIC (heart) options ceramic plates plus a layer of sentimental armor that encircles the torso.

Ceramic and poly plates, against this, abrade or shear incoming bullets over a really, very fast time period.

“The ceramic portion of a ceramic plate shears that bullet, and the armor itself shatters a bit (it’s meant to) after which the backer materials captures these fragments in order that it doesn’t undergo the armor and clearly go into you. It acts like a catcher’s mitt. These fibers pull aside, they usually create a lump on the again of the plate. That’s that ‘backface signature’ that you simply discuss if you’re speaking about NIJ certification the place they need a most of 44 millimeters backface,” defined Jeremy Grey of HESCO.

However what about poly plates? Absolutely, they aren’t making a bullet shatter. Right, they’re shearing and abrading it and doing so very quick with little or no weight. “If in case you have a pure polyethylene plate, you clearly don’t have that strike face to shatter the bullet. It’s a unique technique, however fibers additionally really pull the bullet aside. The polyethylene supplies which can be used include fibers — actually lengthy chains of carbon and hydrogen — in addition to some form of resin system that holds these fibers collectively. Whenever you consolidate these with warmth, that’s what’s doing the work of defeating the spherical,” Grey elaborated.

Studio photo of ceramic plates.

Above: We spoke to Jeremy Grey, former president of HESCO, one of many greatest names within the armor enterprise. HESCO plates have been worn every day by members of the army and legislation enforcement businesses for greater than 20 years.

If you wish to geek out on this a bit extra, that is known as the Van der Waals impact. The supplies and chemical processes to make ceramic and poly armor are so robust that they actually pull the bullet aside in milliseconds because it contacts the strike face. Simply take into consideration how small a M193 55-grain bullet is, for instance, and how briskly it strikes (as much as 3,250 fps). These methods should do an entire lot of labor in an extremely brief time period. On high of that, many Degree III plates are multi-hit rated. That’s nothing in need of superb if you cease and give it some thought.

“The most important draw back to an all poly, light-weight NIJ-certified Degree III rifle plate? A 16-inch AR-15 with M855 ammo will shoot proper by it. When individuals brag to me about their costly tremendous light-weight Extremely-Excessive-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) plates, I usually inform them that’s nice, it would make it simpler to pull your corpse,” Hughes commented.

“I’d put on metal plates earlier than I wore an all-poly plate,” he continued. “The rationale for that’s easy, I do know the American firearms market and neighborhood. I do know the percentages of encountering a 20-inch AR-15 firing M193 ammo is considerably decrease than encountering a 16-inch one firing M855. We’re speaking about the most well-liked rifle within the nation, and one which’s firing roughly 50 % of obtainable industrial ammo that may be capable of render it ineffective. We don’t like 50/50 odds in physique armor. I wouldn’t put on one, no matter how good and lightweight they’re. I’d put on metal first … and that’s saying one thing, as a result of I usually solely advocate metal in very slender circumstances, reminiscent of horrific storage situations, onerous use, impacts, drops, and so forth.,” Hughes continued. This, for context, is why we see the designation Degree III+. Extra on that subsequent.

Studio photo of armor plates made for ems personnel.

Above: Armor might be worn covertly or overtly. HighCom presents a Rescue variant of its Trooper ACAP plate service that features high-vis reflective materials. It’s designed to be worn by fireplace/EMS personnel throughout lively shooter and important incident responses.

Armor Rankings – What Do They Imply?

One of many greatest hang-ups and puzzles that encompass shopping for plates are the rankings. There are 5 NIJ rankings you have to be conscious of: IIA, II, IIIA, III, and IV. These armor rankings are written as Roman numerals however learn as numbers (e.g., 2A). The primary three relate to handgun calibers, whereas the final two apply to rifle calibers.

Let’s be clear on one thing proper out of the gate. There is no such thing as a “+” designation from the Nationwide Institute of Justice (NIJ). They’re the governing physique that does most — if not all — of the armor certifications within the U.S. Particularly, physique armor has to succeed in the NIJ 0101.06 commonplace. Nevertheless, a brand new system (0101.07 — acquired to like the federal government and their easy-to-remember designations) is allegedly on the way in which.

“The NIJ Customary 0101.06 is the most recent commonplace printed by the Nationwide Institute of Justice and units minimal resistance necessities for smooth physique armor in addition to onerous rifle armor. Merchandise which can be licensed compliant by NIJ might be discovered on the NIJ CPL record. We clarify it a bit extra on our NIJ internet web page and on our weblog,” Kelly Gordon, advertising and artistic director from HighCom Armor defined.

Photo of Oregon Ballistic Labratories.

Above: Oregon Ballistic Laboratories (OBL) is a full-service armor testing facility that’s licensed by the Nationwide Institute of Justice and the U.S. Military Aberdeen Check Heart.

“Usually, handguns and assault rifles can fireplace comparatively quickly, and there’s a probability the armor will probably be hit greater than as soon as, so having multi-hit efficiency with armor is vital when the operator is available in contact with these menace ranges. Regardless that our Degree IV plate is a single hit for that degree of safety, there’s nonetheless multi-hit safety at decrease menace ranges,” Gordon defined additional. The plus (+) — within the case of HighCom armor and plenty of different producers — signifies that they’ve carried out further testing above the usual necessities, which we’ll focus on shortly.

Mushy armor rankings, from “weakest” to “strongest,” are organized as follows: IIA – II – IIIA. One factor we glossed over to this point is handgun rounds, since a lot of the onerous armor has rifle threats in thoughts. Degree IIA smooth physique armor can cease most traditional handgun rounds (9mm, 40 S&W, .38 Particular, and so forth.) excluding magnum rounds or maybe a 9mm from a PCC the place it would achieve much more velocity in a 16-inch barrel than a 4-inch handgun. Degree II will increase safety to defeat a 9mm doing over 1,100 fps or a .357 Magnum jacketed smooth level; IIIA can defeat the entire earlier rounds in addition to a quicker transferring 9mm (about 1,400 fps) and a .44 Magnum. In brief, IIIA smooth physique armor can defeat just about any handgun spherical.

Exhausting armor rankings get a bit extra difficult. Degree III plates are designed to take a number of hits from quite a lot of calibers as a rule (all producers differ, so please, please, please take a look at their tech sheets and perceive what they are saying). For essentially the most half, Degree III plates which can be NIJ licensed can take six hits from the frequent menace rifle calibers — XM193 (5.56 55-grain ball ammo), M80 (7.62×51 or .308 civilian) and seven.62×39 (frequent AK rounds, though this will get bizarre as a result of quality control with one of these ammo coming from abroad factories). All the opposite rounds which can be outdoors of these fundamental rifle threats are why you see the + or ++ designations — they fall out of the NIJ bubble and producers need to denote that their plates might defeat extra frequent calibers that aren’t on the record (for instance, .300BLK).

Photo of an Oregon Ballistic Laboratories worker.

Above: OBL supplied these behind-the-scenes pictures of one of many ranges the place they carry out rigorous NIJ armor assessments.

Degree IV plates can take a single hit from 30-06 M2AP (armor piercing) ammunition. “For Degree IV, the one spherical that NIJ acknowledges is 7.62×63 — or 30-06 because it’s generally identified — M2AP. That’s a hardened metal core spherical touring at roughly 2,880 fps. The fascinating factor for all of the velocities for the NIJ is that they’re above the muzzle velocity for many of your commonplace rounds. And when NIJ is speaking about velocity, it’s putting velocity, not muzzle velocity,” Grey of HESCO humored me and defined. I discovered extra from our dialog about muzzle versus putting velocity and ballistics than I did in hours of studying.

“Not all Degree III plates will cease inexperienced tip however all Degree IV plates will. It’s a more durable menace to cease and common. We provide a number of Degree III plates that every one cease inexperienced tip — 3s14m, 3s9, 3s9m, RSTP, RSTPSA+, RSTPG2. The brand new NIJ 07 Customary, nonetheless, will record inexperienced tip as a required menace for Degree III plates,” Gordon of HighCom safety defined additional about their choices. To be clear, “inexperienced tip” is the frequent time period for rounds which can be M855 American designation or SS109 all over the place else — gentle metal core penetrator rounds. HESCO additionally calls any of their Degree III plates that may defeat a M855 spherical a Degree III+, as you possibly can see on their tech sheets. For instance, additionally they record 7.62×39 HSP (M43) and seven.62x54R — that are generally fired from AKs and Mosin Nagants respectively — as able to being defeated by Degree III+ plates, however these once more usually are not throughout the NIJ 06 certification bubble.

Photo of OBL testing equipment.

Above: OBL testing gear.

There are additionally merchandise which can be DEA or Rifle Particular Threats rated. These don’t match throughout the guardrails of the NIJ 06 ranking, and thus can’t be licensed as such, however that doesn’t essentially imply they’ll’t cease rounds or are in any other case unsafe. The DEA, in truth, has some fairly excessive round-stopping requirements, and you may see a few of this on HESCO’s tech sheets.

The most important takeaway relating to rankings is the next: work out what you’re attempting to cease, your probably use case, your possible threats, weight, and funds. For those who’re sporting armor all day or utilizing it in knowledgeable setting, it’s worthwhile to give cautious consideration to how a lot weight versus safety you need, however you most likely need to cease rifle rounds and fairly a couple of of them. Personally, I’d choose to have a bit of extra weight and be higher protected, however that’s simply me. For those who’re a civilian and can probably solely must throw your plates on in a SHTF state of affairs, that’s a unique story. In that case, you could be utilizing armor extra to defend a static place (e.g. your private home) and it could be wiser to go along with essentially the most safety you possibly can afford whereas contemplating weight a decrease precedence. It’s all about trade-offs.

Photo of OBL testing armor plates.

Above: OBL testing gear.

How is Armor Examined by the NIJ?

NIJ certification testing, as you possibly can think about, is a strong, brutal, and really particular sequence of assessments that armor should cross to earn the NIJ seal. The brand new commonplace, NIJ 07, has been promised since 2016, however proper now they’re abiding by the NIJ 06 commonplace.

“The method to get a plate licensed is kind of prolonged. Final time we acquired a plate licensed it took about 4 months,” Grey of HESCO mentioned. “There are lots of issues the NIJ does. As a producer, you must submit 9 plates for a Degree III certification — eight for testing and an additional. The brand new commonplace [0101.07] will enhance the variety of plates for RF1 and RF2 considerably. The unique draft known as for 27 plates for testing (9 for every menace), however the rumblings concerning the revision to the draft is that there will probably be twice that quantity as a result of NIJ now desires to check obliquity. So, that’s 54 plates, which is lots. The Degree IV or RF3 will name for 37 plates for V0 and V50 and one other 37 for obliquity,” he continued.

These plates will go right into a conditioning chamber for 11 days and are subjected to varied temperatures, humidity, and the like. Then comes the drop check.

The plate is connected to a 4-foot-tall arm with a weighted again, and every plate is then slammed down twice. And don’t overlook, that’s after 11 days of being subjected to the entire variations in temperature and humidity.

If a plate survives so far, then and solely then does it get shot. For a Degree III, it must get shot six occasions. After it takes rounds, they carry out what’s known as a V0 check — mainly, is there a penetration or not? 4 plates undergo this course of.

Studio photo of an AK rifle.

Above: It’s smart to contemplate the calibers and weapon configurations you is perhaps up towards. Understanding armor rankings — together with the unofficial “+” designations — can assist you establish what you really want.

Then, there’s a V50 check. This check is wild in that they enhance the speed of the menace projectile till you get 50 % of the rounds passing by the plates. Typically to attain this V50 failure velocity, the case is maxed out to the purpose that no extra powder might be crammed in, or the barrel/weapon system merely can’t take it. That is extra theoretical, versus being one thing that may ever occur in actual life. It’s merely establishing what the security issue is for that plate. One other 4 plates undergo this course of.

“The NIJ desires a calculated failure charge of beneath 5 % for a given plate. Most of our [HESCO] plates are lower than 0.1 % failure charge,” Grey talked about in a matter-of-fact method. That’s 50x higher than the NIJ commonplace. You’ll be able to double verify my math.

From a laboratory perspective, it’s worthwhile to reproduce dependable outcomes each single time with these plates. The NIJ takes it significantly, and rightfully so — there are lives on the road. If a producer is ISO licensed, they inform the NIJ they’ll check their plates each 24 months, off the road, on the producer’s expense, to make sure their quality control are as much as par. If not ISO licensed, this occurs each 12 months. For much more context, they ship the plates out to considered one of a handful of firms to examine and check them, and the producer can go and watch the assessments to be a witness.

Photo of an adult male checking his phone while wearing armor plates and holding a rifle at the back of his open SUV.

Above: Physique armor has many purposes for quite a few vocations (Picture by Joey Skibel).

That is the distinction between NIJ licensed and NIJ compliant. Clearly, certification is much extra rigorous, expensive, and time-consuming.

After we discuss the usual a Degree IV plate must cross — defeating a 30-caliber M2AP spherical — we’re actually speaking a few .30-06 spherical with a hardened metal core that was made within the Fifties. There aren’t a lot of them floating round. Even for testing within the manufacturing facility, many of those rounds have been pulled from outdated ammunition stockpiles. Every spherical is loaded individually, they measure the quantity of powder that’s poured into it, and so forth. There are strict lab requirements, and moreover, in testing they upcharge these rounds to acquire a putting velocity of two,880 fps — roughly 5 % quicker than a normal spherical would produce on the muzzle. Stated one other manner, they’re testing in a worst-case state of affairs kind of manner. However because of this, Degree IV plates are solely examined to be hit one time by M2AP rounds. That may not sound like an awesome stat, however a normal M2AP spherical is able to penetrating half an inch of metal from practically 100 yards.

The assessments are completely brutal earlier than they’re even shot, after which throughout.

Subsequent Era Armor Rankings

The brand new NIJ 0101.07 commonplace will probably be a lot simpler to navigate than present armor rankings, because it’s supposed to interrupt down what armor can defeat a menace degree from HG (handgun) 1-3, with 3 being essentially the most strong, and the identical for rifle. The chart beneath outlines the brand new designations, check menace ammo and reference velocities for NIJ 07. As soon as extra, this ranking system hasn’t formally been put in place but.

Illustrated table of next generation armor ratings.

So … What Plates Ought to I Purchase?

Like just about everything, there’s no straightforward button. It is advisable take into consideration your use, how a lot weight you need to carry, and what you need to cease. Whereas funds is and ought to be a priority, you need to ask your self: how a lot is your life, or your beloved’s life price? Would you actually need to go to all the difficulty of shopping for and sporting armor, solely to finish up laying on the bottom with holes in you wishing you sprang for higher plates with high-velocity hit capabilities?

As I discussed on the outset, the buying resolution is all about you and your private use, but additionally about trade-offs. Metal is cheaper and has multi-hit capabilities, however is heavy, there’s a spall issue, and if not completed proper, the metal turns into brittle. Additionally, as lots of the trade specialists on this article have identified, 20-inch barrels taking pictures XM193 can bore by among the metal plates simply. With poly plates, in fact, they’re lighter, however traditionally don’t deal with a number of hits from inexperienced tip until you go the costlier route.

Ceramic is a superb do-all plate. Throughout the trade with the entire professionals I spoke to for this text, it appears to be the easiest way to steadiness efficiency and weight whereas having an eye fixed towards price. Everybody thinks of ceramic and thinks of dinner plates that crack in the event that they’re set down on the counter too onerous — they’re nowhere close to that fragile. Not even shut. You could possibly hit a lot of them full-force with a sledgehammer, and they might nonetheless be operational. There are some formulation which can be extra brittle than others, however all of them will stand as much as regular put on and tear simply superb. You largely have to be cautious in the event you work in a high-tempo, high-speed operational surroundings like a QRF or army unit, as ceramic can break or develop into brittle with years of heavy use. Many plates are marked with a 5- to 10-year shelf life, however that’s extra for legal responsibility functions than something — your plates can final lots longer in the event that they’re saved appropriately and never abused.

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Editor’s Observe: This text has been modified from its unique print model for the online.

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