Best Lightweight Level 4 Body Armor | Interceptor Body Armor

Best Lightweight Level 4 Body Armor | Interceptor Body Armor

If you close your eyes and think of modern military body armor (battle-rattle), the image you most likely see is a soldier with a front and back plate, Deltoid and Axillary Protectors, and side plates. This type of armor is called Interceptor body armor and is meant specifically for military and LEO special operations. 

As you can imagine, wearing a tactical vest, 2 full-size plates, 2 side plates, Deltoid and Axillary Protectors can get overwhelmingly heavy. 

Through the testing requirements of the Inspector General’s office, our goal today is to show why Shotstop® has the best lightweight Level 4 body armor for our soldiers all across the globe. 

We’ve discussed our Level 4 body armor many times, but this blog is dedicated to the men and women who serve our country abroad. I can’t find any time where we’ve discussed the DoD Inspector General (IG) Report on DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor.

What is the Inspector General’s Office?

For those who work for the government or have been in the military, you’ve heard of the Inspector General. Most just call them the IG, but there are actually different offices for every branch. 

The IG is the government’s attempt to provide a checks & balances system to the men and women who serve. For example, the IG doesn’t work for anyone other than the President of the United States. 

The current IG is Joseph V. Cuffari and he is responsible for providing objective investigations into mistreatment of soldiers and government employees, corruption, and the protection of Whistleblowers

The IG is one of the most powerful people in our government because he only answers to one person. 

For example, if a  full-bird Colonel is harassing a Private First Class, the IG can openly and aggressively investigate the issue. No matter how high the rank of anybody in the military, they have no ability to leverage the IG (in practice). 

Why is the IG Important to Body Armor Testing?

The IG is extremely important to body armor because it ensures objectivity in the testing procedures. Many people might be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of companies vying for one of the DoD contracts. 

Since the IG is leading the testing protocols, no company will ever have a chance to plant a seed of corruption and manipulate those standards to fit their product. In short, the IG makes sure there is no corruption or palms being greased during the testing of body armor. 

What is the IG DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor Report?

The whole point of this study was to objectively evaluate the efficacy of Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts (ESAPI) plates (Page 1 in report). 

Before each body armor sample is tested, they place a clay backing material to represent the body mass of the soldier. This is important because it will show how much of the projectile will penetrate the armor and flesh of the soldier.

The IG report is based on 3 testing parameters that all body armor must pass before being approved by the military. Body Armor must defeat the specified number of impacts within the parameters of the Contract Purchase Description (COPD)

  • Acceptable number of complete penetration
  • Acceptable number of partial penetration
  • Maximum depth of the back face deformation (BFD) for partial penetrations
  • Complete Penetration Vs. Partial Penetration?

    One of the more difficult aspects of testing that is hard to understand for those who don’t study ballistics everyday is what exactly is a complete or partial penetration. 

    Fortunately, the DoD provides a great explanation and image to provide better clarity on the issue.




    Depending on the type of bullet (hollow point), you could see shrapnel upon impact. You never want to see a complete penetration of a plate, but the backing kevlar insert could stop the fragments from reaching your body. 

    No matter what type of armor system you have, the images on the right will all completely penetrate your armor and flesh. This is why it’s so important to know your threat levels and wear the proper body armor.

    What is Interceptor Body Armor?

    All my fellow veterans probably get nostalgic when they see an Interceptor armor system, I know I do. 

    Interceptor Body Armor Components 

    ESAPI Ballistic Plate Insert

    ESAPI plates are the same as SAPI plates, but are supposed to provide NIJ-Listed Level 4 protection.

    Deltoid Axillary Protector (DAP)

    DAPs are meant to protect the soldier from shrapnel and ricochet shots for soldiers inside up armored vehicles.

    Side Plate Armor

    Side plates come in either 6x6 or 6x8 and fit into the side pouches on the Interceptor armor system.They’re designed to protect you from getting shot from your flanks.

    Outer Tactical Vest

    The body armor tactical vest is what holds your everything together. The tactical part is the MOLLE attachment loops for ammo, radio, medical gear, guns, and anything else for the mission.


    The Interceptor body armor system has been the best way to offer the most ballistic protection possible for our soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). 

    The Interceptor armor system is equipped with a handle strap on the top of the back (just below the neck) to carry wounded or killed soldiers off the battlefield. 

    Another distinctive feature in the standard Interceptor armor system is a pull tab (normally left shoulder) that allows you to instantly release the vest and drop everything where you stand. 

    The pull-tab is used as a last resort if you're in a trapped vehicle or you need to lighten the load to carry casualties. 





    SAPI vs ESAPI Plates

    I’ve researched extensively from the current NIJ-Ballistic Resistance Standards (0101.06) and the newest standards that most modern armor is being tested to at the moment NIJ Standard (0101.07).

    Nowhere in the current or new standards does NIJ mention ESAPI as a new form of protection. 

    All these “standards” that companies claim for ESAPI plates are more of a marketing strategy than an upgrade in body armor. 

    I’ve searched both MIl-Spec regulations along with the NIJ and the only certifiable information I can find is in the IG DoD testing for body armor report. 


    SAPI Plate

    ESAPI Plate

    Range in threat-protection from Level II-IV

    Typically referred to as Level IV body armor 

    SAPI is characterized by the top corners cut to provide better mobility.

    ESAPI is characterized by the top corners cut to provide better mobility. 

    Stop threats A,B, and C

    Stop threats A,B,C, and D

    What is an ESAPI Plate?

    According to the Inspector General (IG) Report on DoD Testing Requirements for Body Armor (page 7 in report), ESAPI is a new (2009) standard for military testing procedures. 

    The U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command states that an ESAPI plate is “Required to stop three shots against threats A, B, and C, and two shots against threat D. 

    The confusing part for anyone reading the IG report is the Army classified what each (A,B,C,D) ballistic threat (bullet caliber). In short, no one knows what calibers were for sure used in the ballistic testing. 

    We can assume since ESAPI is designed to provide NIJ-Listed Level IV armor, that it’s all rifle calibers with at least an APM2 (30-06) and M855 (5.56mm NATO). However, you know what they say about making assumptions. 

    Common Misconceptions/Misunderstandings of SAPI Plates
    1. A SAPI plate in the modern world of body armor refers specifically to the type of cut of the plate.
    2. If you Google SAPI plate or ESAPI plate, you’ll see a lot of information about threat level disparities. As of right now, the NIJ hasn’t published anything about threat levels specific to SAPI plates. 
    3. SAPI plates are almost always listed online as being lighter in weight than ESAPI plates. There is no evidence in any federal regulation or guideline that states a weight difference between the two armor plates
    4. SAPI plates are often said to be less effective against multiple strikes than ESAPI plates. However, there is no evidence to validate this. 
    5. Finally, every blog I see about SAPI vs. ESAPI plates indicate that SAPI plates and ESAPI plates are made from different materials and processes. Once again, there is ZERO evidence to support this in any regulation or guideline posted by the NIJ, NIST, or the DoD. 
    Why Is There So Much Misinformation on SAPI Plates?

    This is a tough question to answer, but the only thing I can think of is companies saw the military trying to introduce enhanced ballistic protection and ran with it. 

    I see some of our top competitors, such as Spartan Armor Systems use all of these misconceptions in their marketing for Level IV body armor. As good of a company as they are, I’m sure they just got the same misinformation as everyone else. 

    The difference between Shotstop® and our competitors, however, is we read every regulation, guideline, law, and publication the NIJ and NIST put out. 

    We understand that every company has a million considerations and reading through current and future regulations is often too time consuming to do every month.

    What’s Wrong With the IG Report on DoD Body Armor Testing?
    1. This report to discuss body armor certification is the fact that it was published in 2009 and has seen no revisions or updates since
    2. According to their own omissions, the IG states, “We did not review the safety of the ballistic inserts, and therefore, we did not determine whether these inserts provide the protection intended”.
    3. Furthermore, the IG casts doubt on the validity of testing by stating,The Army did not have internal control procedures to ensure adequate oversight of the first article testing process and proper review and approval of the first article testing results”.
    4. Finally, by classifying the threat projectiles, there is no way to distinguish any difference in an ESAPI plate versus SAPI plate.

    (All 4 of these issues can be found on pages 5-7 of the report)

    What About Side Plate Armor?

    I remember wearing both steel and ceramic side plates in my 2 tours in OIF. To be honest, they were incredibly uncomfortable and too thick to maneuver my arms side to side as I scan for threats. and added too much weight to an already 100 lb load with my M249. 

    Most of the time, especially once we got out of the trucks and conducted ground patrol, I left my side plates in the truck. They were way more of a liability than the chance of me getting shot in the side (or at least that was my reasoning). 

    Side Plates come in either 6x6” or 6x8” plates and most weigh somewhere between 2.5-4 lbs per plate.

    I know the ones I wore were at least around that weight and it does make a difference when you’re already carrying 60-100 lbs of weapons and gear.

    What Makes Shotstop® Side Plates the Best?

    Looking at our closest competitors, Spartan Armor and AR500, they accurately fit into the average weight of traditional side plates. 

    Spartan Armor has their side plates at 2.56 lbs per plate and AR500 offers multiple weights from 2.5 -3.5 lbs per side plate

    Our Duritium® Level IV+HA side plate is a 6”x6” plate with a weight of 1.4lbs per plate. You can argue that the thickness of the steel plate (0.25”) is better than Duritium® (0.6”) and understand that argument. 

    However, what would you rather have, Level IV protection and under 3 lbs overall for your side plates, or up to 7 lbs of steel at Level III protection? 

    To put that in perspective, if you are outfitted with an entirely steel-core or full-ceramic armor system, you could carry as much as 20-40 lbs of extra body armor versus our Duritium® Level IV+HA plates. 

    Duritium® Level IV+HA Body Armor

    We would never try to call out a company without showing our evidence to back our claims. Our main goal here is to educate our readers on what is factual and what is hearsay. 

    It can be dangerous for consumers to not consider a SAPI cut plate because they think it’s not as good as an ESAPI plate

    As you can see from the image below, our Duritium® Level IV+HA plate comes in 4 different sizes of SAPI cut plates. All of Level IV+HA SAPI cut plates will stop multiple hits from any rifle caliber tested by the NIJ. 

  • 5.56x45mm 55 grain ball (M193) 
  • 7.62x39mm PS ball (MSC)
  • 7.62x51mm 149 grain M80 FMJ
  • NATO M855 
  • 5.56x45mm 62 grain steel core (SS109)
  • M855A1
  • 7.62x63mm M2 AP

  • Our Duritium® Level IV+HA plate is the best lightweight Level 4 body armor on the planet with an overall weight (including side plates) of 11.8 lbs for a 10”x12” plate.


    Duritium® Level IV+HA SAPI Plates in Interceptor Armor

    We know we make armor that stops a single shot from a 30-06, but we asked the NIJ to test our Level IV armor for multiple shots to the same plate with an M2AP (30-06) bullet. 

    The Duritium® Level IV+HA plate is seriously something special and never seen before. It’s easy to notice that our Duritium® plate stopped 3 M2AP (30-06) bullets, but notice the deformation section.

    Not only did our Duritium® Level IV plate stop those 3 rounds, it also remained within safe guidelines of allowable Backface Deformation(BFD)! 

    In short, the plate was only required to pass one hit with no penetration and inside the DFD limits set by the NIJ. The fact that it stopped 3 and still maintained the integrity of the plate is unheard of for a Polyethylene composite plate.



    Wearing our Duritium® armor in your Interceptor system will give you the most durable, lightweight, and thin Level 4 SAPI protection. 

    Why the U.S. Military Should Trust Shotstop®

    In 2009, the IG noted in his report that all test subjects should be returned to the manufacturer for failure to pass the ballistic testing. 

    Most of that information is classified, but the biggest difference with military testing and the NIJ testing, is that military armor must pass multiple hits to the same armor. 

    We took a pledge at Shotstop® that any piece of armor we sell to the public will always exceed the standards. That same day we discovered our company motto, “We Protect the Protectors''

    We take great pride in seeing our Armed Forces in Shotstop® body armor. We take even more comfort knowing they’re wearing the best armor for a warfighter. 

    Shotstop® offers all military members and organizations exclusive discounts that are meant for them. For any logistics Sergeant or Lieutenant considering buying new body armor, drop a line to our sales team at sales@shotstop.com

    We know our military has the best weapons, but they also deserve the best protection technology can produce. 

    Give Shotstop® a chance to impress your soldiers and let them see what  the most advanced ballistic protection plates look and feel like. We’re confident that this will be the best lightweight Level 4 body armor you’ve ever used in your Interceptor system.


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