A friend of mine is starting up an armor company. I have been helping him out a lot over the past year, and I have learned a lot about armor. More than I ever expected to. The Dragonskin is crap. It weighs twice as much as other armor. And the glue (yes, glue) holding the plates in place inside the vests melts and anything warmer than a pleasant day at the beach. That is generally considered to be a bad thing.
As for modern armor, it comes in two basic forms. Soft panels and hard plates. How much they stop depends on how thick they are.
Soft panels are, as the name says, soft. At least compared to armor plates. They are usually somewhat flexible, and run anywhere from 1/8- ¾ of an inch thick depending on what they are made of and what they are rated to stop. Normally they come in the official rating levels of IIA, II, and IIIA. With IIIA being the toughest. It is rated to stop a .44 magnum soft-nosed bullet at close quarters. Most of the IIIA vests are NOT currently rated to stop 7.62x25 Tokarev handgun bullets, however. Nor are they usually rated to stop shotgun slugs. Some of the newer soft panels are able to stop them, but there is no official rating for this level yet. Some manufacturers will call these panels Level IIIA+ or Level IIIA Tokarev. If you are looking for that kind of protection, be sure to ask about it before you buy. Soft panels are great, and they have gotten better over the years, but they still not able to stop rifle rounds. 5.56 and up need something with a bit more stopping power to defeat them. Which brings us too…
Armor Plates. These are exactly what they sound like. A hard plate of material that will stop a rifle bullet. What they will stop depends on what they are rated for. They can be made from synthetic fibers, ceramics, metal, and even combinations of all three. They all have their good points and their bad points. Metal plates can be really, really tough. And they are much thinner than other plates. But they weigh a freakin’ ton. And they tend to send splatter and bits of bullet off of them. A fragment of a rifle bullet bouncing off of your plate into your throat is a bad thing. So between the weight and splatter issues, you don’t see as many people using them nowadays. Ceramic plates are almost as tough as the metal. And almost as heavy. They don’t normally send bits of bullets off in all directions. Their drawback is that they are fragile. They shatter when they get hit. Or get dropped. Or get whacked soundly. And as they break up, they lose their ability to stop bullets. The last thing that plates are normally made from is synthetic fibers. This is usually the same kind of material that the soft panels are made from. The difference is that they have usually been put together with some sort of resin, and contain many more layers than a soft panel. They are also usually much lighter than the metal or ceramic plates. Their drawbacks are that they are thicker than the other two, and depending on what they are made of, they may degrade over time, or if exposed to too much UV radiation, heat, moisture or chemicals. Kevlar and Zylon have had issues with this in the past. Spectra and other ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylenes are more resistant to that. You normally don’t see pure synthetic plates rated above Level III Stand Alone, as the thicknes needed to stop an AP .30-06 ball round make them impractical. Composite plates are plates that are made from 2 or more of these options. Usually a synthetic and either ceramic or metal. The synthetic helps prevent the fragmentation problems on the metal plates by absorbing the fragments. It helps protect the ceramic from breaking up when it is dropped. In both cases it reduces the weight of the plates. And composite plates are thinner than the pure syntetic plates.
Plates normally come in 4 different rating levels. A “Level III in conjunction with a level IIIA vest” means that the plate will protect against 5.56 M855 and 7.62x51 NATO M80 ball ammo. Provided you are wearing a Level IIIA vest underneath the plate. The bullet will likely go through the plate, but it will lose enough energy that the IIIA vest can now stop it. A Level III stand-alone plate will stop the same threat, but you don’t need the vest underneath it. Level IV “in conjunction” and “stand alone” plates work the same way, but they are rated to stop a .30-06 M2 AP ball round.
I am going to be helping him out with the videos for these vests in the next few months. We are going to be taking them out to the range and seeing if they hold up to the threat levels they are supposed to. Not attached to people, however. I know that was the first question you guys were going to ask. I can’t say that it won’t be fun to blow things up. I’ll post links once he gets them up on Youtube. I am especially looking forward to testing the Level IV plates and the “Tokarev-proof” soft panels. It should be a hoot. If they do hold up, I’ll see what I can do about a group buy through him. I make no guarantees, but it looks like he will be carrying a basic soft panel/ plate carrier, a Level IIIA Tokarev vest, and Level III and Level IV stand alone plates. I’m not sure which kind though. Composite or pure synthetic probably. Whatever he goes with though, I am going to have a good time trying to destroy it.