We recently did a live-fire test on AR500 Armor’s level 3 Advanced Shooters Cut steel plate during one of our recent training events. My initial thoughts were that the plate would stand up to several strikes, and I was very happy with the end result. AR500 Armor test video
We placed the AR500 LVL 3 ASC plate at 25 yards, 5 shooters, firing a mixture of ammunition:
We fired 4 volleys of fire, approximately 20 rounds in quick succession struck the AR500 plate. Upon inspection of the plate we found that none of the rounds penetrated the plate. There was very little deformation on the backside of the plate. The front side of the plate is coated with AR500's in-house applied double layer of PAXCON Line-X fragmentation and Spall coating.
An interesting side note. PAXCON was specifically designed for fragmentation and spall mitigation. It is being applied to the interior infrastructure during the construction and refitting phases on select Federal buildings. This barrier is designed to enhance personnel protection by limiting or compartmentalizing fragmentation, spall, and other flying debris .
You can see that the front spall / fragmentation Paxcon lining took some pretty serious hits on
our test AR500 Armor plate, all cosmetic. The only damage done to the steel plate was small pock marks. It didn't appear the plate sustained any damage which would degrade from its continued use.
This brings us full circle to the topic at hand; sustainability. We are focusing on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), specifically personal hard body armor sustainability.
There are those who believe when you place body armor on our person you magically turn into this invincible iron man of sorts. Bullets unnaturally track directly to your body armor, striking with little to no effect on the obvious superhuman behind the set of plates.
Of course I am poking fun at Hollywood, and maybe a little eyebrow lifting at some in the tactical community that portray body armor as more of a magical talisman than a piece of equipment which when used in conjunction with proper training and other supporting equipment, will bolster battlefield survivability.
Hard body armor, trauma plates, SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert), ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert), Steel plate, AR500, these are a few of the loosely thrown around names given to body armor. To me, the names aren't really important. What I find important are the capabilities, sustainability, price (yes, for some price does come into play, even for something as important as body armor), and performance characteristics.
I own several sets of plate body armor, Steel AR500, older SAPI as well as the newer ESAPI plates. SAPI and ESAPI are a military term and they often go hand in hand in generally referring to body armor holistically as ceramic body armor.
This generalization doesn't get my hackles up, but when speaking to subject matter experts on armor you can bet they might give you some context when using the term ceramic. Most "ceramic" type plates are made from either Boron Carbide or Silicon Carbide. I will continue to use the general term "ceramic" to reference all Boron and Silicon Carbide plates.
Somewhat recently Ultra-light 100% high molecular weight Polyethylene trauma plates have become more affordable and accessible. The plates are approximately the same width as an ESAPI at .9" too 1.05" thick.
Important Safety Note
(A safety warning most Polyethylene / Ultra-light Rifle vendors neglect to mention...)
This Ultralight plate is manufactured on an ISO-certified production line, but you should know that the ballistic performance of all Polyethylene may be adversely affected, or permanently reduced, by prolonged exposure to ambient temperatures below ~ MINUS 15°F ( - 26 °Celsius) and over 150 °F (65 ° Celsius).
Polyethylene plates must never be exposed to open flame, excessive direct sunlight, UV exposure or any hot surface. Heat damage to the external surface (e.g., melting) is a visual clue that the plate may have been exposed to elevated temperatures. If damage is found, replace the plate.
So, don't take any chances by leaving your Rifle Plates in extremely cold or hot environments, OR letting them "cook" in the sun, for example:
SAPI and ESAPI plates are designed to take multiple hits from high velocity projectiles. ESAPI is rated for 3 to 5 hits from .30-06 black-tip armor-piercing rounds. Generally SAPI and ESAPI plates are covered with an aramid or para-aramid fiber such as Spectra, Kevlar and Twaron to encapsulate the plate which reduces front face spall from bullet fragments as well as material from the trauma plate. The fibers are designed to trap fragments of the plate from penetrating into the wearer as well as provide for multi-hit protection factor.
Don't let the term "multi-hit" confuse you. Once your "ceramic" type body armor has been struck by a high velocity rifle round, it is done. Hopefully you are lucky enough to walk away uninjured, but you will no longer have a functional ceramic plate to protect you. The plate is designed to fracture on impact. The fracturing helps to disburse the energy over a larger area.
The term "multi-hit" is to identify that the ceramic plate has been tested to withstand a certain amount of immediate follow on rounds. Imagine walking around a corner and you are met with a 3 round burst from an M-4. If the projectiles were targeted to impact an area of your body protected by the ceramic "multi-hit" plate, then your plate should have just stopped 3 rounds that hit you in quick succession. The plate stopped the rounds but at this point the plate is no longer serviceable. It must be discarded or held on to for personal reasons, but it is no longer an effective piece of your PPE.
On a personal note. In the Western portion of Baghdad on Abi Nawas street while conducting a security patrol, one our team members was struck in the lower left portion of his ESAPI plate by unidentified rifle fire. The fragmentation from the ESAPI penetrated the upper portion of his left thigh around where the femur connects to the pelvic bone. This wound was extremely hard to treat due no viable area to apply a tourniquet.
Due to a skilled team medic and quick response from the squad and the follow on QRF (Quick Reaction Force), there was no loss of life. But, needless to say he doesn't walk without pain and a limp from the wound.
To the point- Even when wearing PPE there is no guarantee that you will not sustain life threatening injuries from the sympathetic reaction of your plate receiving a high velocity metal impact on it.
Often I hear people will compare their super light weight ceramic body armor to certified ballistic steel body armor. In my humble opinion, it is apples and oranges. Both the Ceramic and Steel lines of body armor both help stop or mitigate injury from high velocity objects. They both have their own definite Pro's and Con's, but they are both in very different comparison categories.
Some of the things I hear about steel-
"Steel is too heavy. I would rather go without than wear steel."
This is a viable response. With some context put to the opinion it might even be a good decision for that specific person. I say this based on the fact that they may be elderly, too out of shape, or have some other impairment which does preclude them from wearing a set of protective plates that weigh approximately an extra 3.5 to 4 pounds more than the very latest in high end "ceramic" type body armor....Oh those ceramic plates will run in the ballpark of $1300.00 for 2 of the High Speed Low Drag plates.
To the guy that is complaining that steel is too heavy (it's not in my opinion), I say good, I am glad you have identified this as a training deficiency on your part. Lets start by having you merely walk around the house or do some yard work in nothing but a slick (no mags, no pouches of any kind) plate carrier and a steel plate front and back. You're going to do the yard work or honey do's anyhow, why not put those plates on for an hour and begin the process of integrating them into your defensive training and preparedness mindset.
"Steel plates can kill you, they can ricochet rounds up into your head. "
I have heard this urban legend before. It has been around probably since steel plates were first introduced as a means to protect oneself from high velocity shrapnel and bullets. I have done some research and I haven't been able to find one documented case of a round ricocheting off certified ballistic steel body armor plate and killing the wearer of said plate. ( I could be wrong, I didn't spend a month of crawling through the archives at the local library looking for supporting data. If you know of a legitimate, documented case, send it my way and I will update this article.)
We just did some of our own testing utilizing a certified AR500 ballistic trauma plate and several different caliber rounds. The results were interesting to say the least. The main take away we found is that more tests needed to be done. Here is a link to the article on Spall
One of the major reasons for which current steel ballistic plate doesn't hold a high risk of ricochet is due to the technology used. Most, if not all, quality ballistic steel plate manufacturer offer some type of ricochet / spall / fragmentation mitigation material application process to the outside of the plate. This application or build up process will add additional weight but it will also add tremendous spall / fragmentation mitigation protection. Not all material build up is equal, do your research prior to purchasing.
Hey prepper Bob, where did you say the CIF was located at again?? -(Central Issue Facility is the governments version of the one stop shop for all your tactical outfitting needs)
We individuals and loosely grouped band of rag-tag patriots probably wont have much in the way of a logistics support structure. You may be the prepper who has 3 everything. Your motto of “one is none two is one” is not practical for everyone, and if mobility is a concern, it probably isn't practical for anyone when looking at big ticket items that must be carried on your person….such as ballistic plates.
Before I get too side tracked lets look more at the specifics of ballistic steel armor plate Vs. ceramic ballistic armor. Right off the bat logistically speaking, if you ever take a round to your ceramic plate it is done. You can no longer reliably depend on it to do what its designed for, stopping bullets. On the other hand, you have steel. The heavy, old, not tacticool, armor that literally will take a beating and keep on protecting.
How many of you get your ceramic plates x-rayed as per the manufacturer's recommendations? Remember, ceramic plates are designed to fracture, this is a design consideration, an expected behavior. It is not a check in the CON side of the list unless you can’t readily replace the cracked or otherwise unserviceable ceramic plate, then it is a BIG check in the CON side.
Steel has came a long way since it was first introduced. Talking with those in the ballistic steel plate fabrication business, there is still a lot more to come from steel. New designs, new scientific applications allowing for lighter, stronger, and more resilient steel plates are soon to be introduced.
Ceramic is by no means second rate to steel plates, it is just in a separate category and as I said before, more of an apples and oranges comparison.
The average price for a level 3 certified ballistic steel trauma plate is about half of what a ceramic plate goes for. For those who can’t afford the latest in lightweight ceramic plates, steel provides comparable protection and excels in providing long term sustainability in the form of multi-shot - multi-use.
My opinion on steel plates is that everyone who is serious about long term sustainability and does not have ready access to a to replacement ceramic ballistic plates, should also own a set of certified ballistic steel plates.