Level III Vs. Level III+ Body Armor | What's the Difference?

Level III Vs. Level III+ Body Armor | What's the Difference?

We’ve received a lot of questions as of late about what level III body armor is and how it’s different from Level III+ body armor. Today, I want to focus on what Level III body armor means, under NIJ’s current 0101.06 standard. 

There are many misconceptions about what Level III body armor will stop and how it’s tested inside the NIJ. 

Our goal is to give our readers all the info they need to ensure they know exactly what the capabilities of their Level III armor are and why it’s important to know what Level III+ body armor is. 

NIJ Standard 0101.06

Understanding how the NIJ tests Level III body armor helps to know the capabilities of your gear. First, the NIJ 0101.06 standard is still currently in use, even though the 0101.07 is ready to be rolled out. 

Level III+PS Body Armor

According to the NIJ, a Level III body armor plate is only tested with the M80 (7.62x51mm) bullet. For those of us thinking logically will believe that if an armor plate can stop an M80, it can stop any other rifle caliber used by bad guys. 

However, the more we understand ballistics, the more likely we are to understand why a lighter or smaller in diameter round can penetrate a Level III plate. 

For example, if you have a Level III plate that is NIJ-Listed, and you get shot with a M855, 5.56 NATO, or even a .223 Remington, your armor may not hold up. 

The NIJ states clearly that they only test the M80 for Level III armor because resources are limited and it would take years to test all the bullets that criminals use. 

What Will a Level III Body Armor Plate Stop?

According to the NIJ (Pg.4), a Level III plate will stop a 7.62 mm FMJ, steel jacketed bullets (U.S. Military designation M80) with a specified mass of 9.6 g (147 gr) and a velocity of 847 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2780 ft/s ± 30 ft/s).

Level III armor is meant to stop some of the heaviest rifle ammo we have available, but it’s not meant to deal with the velocity and punching power of a M855A1 or 5.56mm NATO bullet. 

Why is it Important to Know What a Level III Plate Can Stop?

It’s so important to LEOs because the worst thing you can do is go into a domestic with shots fired and thinking you’re covered from an AR-15 rifle. The fact is that there are too many bullets out there that can penetrate a Level III plate like a knife through warm butter. 

Does the New NIJ 0101.07 Standard Test For Different Calibers?

Yes, the NIJ took notice with the deficiency and confusion of the Level III and will test multiple calibers under the new standard (NIJ RF2). 

NIJ RF Threat Level

Test Threat Ammo


Reference Velocity

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x51mm M80 NATO FMJ Steel Jacketed Spire Point Boat-Tail 149 Grain

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

2,780 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x39mm surrogate test round 120.5 grain 

Specifications provided by NIJ (See Ref. 16)

2380 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56 mm M855)

5.56mm M193 BT 56

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3,250 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56 mm M855)

5.56mm M855 BT 61.8

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3115 ft/s

*Ammo highlighted RED will defeat most Level III Armor Plates

The purpose of me showing the newest standards is to show you that there are bullets anyone can buy anywhere online that will defeat a NIJ-Listed Level III plate. 

Once the testing is based on the newest standards, it will become more clear which armor will stop each caliber. 

ShotStop® is always trying to be ahead of the curve for listing products.. Therefore, we are designing our Level III+ armor plates to meet or  exceed both the current and the up-and-coming 0101.07 standards. 

Don’t Blame The NIJ

The NIJ might frustrate many people, but I’d like to explain why it’s so hard to keep up with all the bullets being made. 

Manufacturers' research & development (R&D) teams are constantly offering the best ballistics in their ammo. As technology improves every year, the ammo we shoot becomes faster, more powerful, and more accurate. 


It’s impossible to test every bullet that comes out because there are hundreds of companies applying to be NIJ-Listed every year and they don't have endless resources. The amount of effort and precision in the testing required by the NIJ would be too extensive to keep up with the advancements in ballistic technology. 

It’s worth noting currently, armor manufacturers use NIJ approved/accredited ballistic labs to test against the NIJ standard. NIJ doesn’t do the testing themselves. This is another widely misunderstood part of the process.  

Which Bullets would likely Defeat most NIJ-Listed Level III Armor?

As of right now, there are dozens of bullets with the capability of defeating a Level III plate with ease. It’s important to understand that just because a bullet is bigger, doesn’t mean it’s more effective against armor. 

  1. .223 Remington
  2. 5.56x45mm NATO
  3. 5.56x45mm XM193
  4. M855
  5. M855A1
  6. .338 Lapua

What is a XM193 Bullet?

We know federal ammunition as one of the most respected commercial ammo companies in the world and for good reason. They produce some of the most accurate and dependable ammo I’ve ever shot with. 

Federal Ammunition created their XM193 bullet as a civilian version of the Mil-Spec M193 cartridge. To keep things as simple as possible, the M in a bullet name means Mil-Spec. The XM cartridge means it’s not Mil-Spec, but has some of the same characteristics.

For example, the XM193 and the M193 are both normally 55 Grain Boat-Tail bullets with a copper alloy and a FMJ. The copper alloy ensures more heat can be absorbed, which is one reason this bullet has a velocity of 3,165 ft/s. 

In short, the XM193 fired from an AR-15 will blast right through a Level IIIA soft armor and even most Level III stand-alone plates. 

What Makes Level III+ Body Armor Different From Level III?

Someone has recently asked me why our ShotStop® Level III stand-alone plates are Level III+. What’s up with that little ‘+’.   

Despite the NIJ not recognizing the ‘+’ symbol, ShotStop® and other armor manufacturers use that to communicate that the plate goes beyond just the M80 level III formal standard in its protection.  

You’d want to check with each armor company exactly what their ‘+’ means.  For ShotStop®,the answer is simple. We know that there are dozens of bullets that can defeat a standard NIJ-Listed Level III plate.

Ours stops more than just the M80 and our multi-hit capability is far greater than just the 6 shot NIJ III requirement. 

We created ShotStop® for real-world applications and we will never settle for a minimum standard. 

Level III+ armor means that the armor is NIJ-Listed at Level III, but it also prevents other calibers (special threats) that are not covered by the standard. 

Which Level III+ Plate is the Best for AR & AK-Style Rifles?

Hands-down, with no question from us, the Duritium® Level III+PS plate is the strongest, lightest, and most reliable Level III body armor in the world. 

To put this in perspective, your average NIJ-Listed Level AR500 armor will only stop a 7.62x51 at 2,750 ft/s. 

Our Duritium® Level III+PS plate will not only stop multiple shots from the same bullet, but it will also stop a 5.56x45mm (M193) bullet at 3,252 ft/s with multiple shot resistance. 

We want to clarify that the Duritium® Level III+PS plate will NOT stop M855 or M855A1 bullets. 

Why Should I Buy the Duritium® Level III+PS Plate Over Level IV?

I’m no longer in the field and no longer have to worry about getting shot at during a traffic stop or someone opening up with an AR-15 as I step out of a vehicle. 

If you’re in law enforcement and you think you’ll face a criminal with an AR-15 shooting a 5.56x45mm NATO bullet or the over-the-counter- XM193 bullet, you need Level III+ armor. 

The Duritium® Level III+PS plate is only 2.2 lbs for the 8x10” plate and still under 1” thick. A level IV plate is going to be heavier, especially for those beat cops that pound the pavement all day. 

As we’ve stated many times over, our prices on the website are standard prices, based on individual purchases. We offer extensive discounts to any and every law enforcement organization in the world. 

If you’re interested in learning more about what ShotStop® can do for your LE organization, please contact our sales team at sales@shotstop.com


Understanding the difference between NIJ-Listed Level III armor and Level III+ armor can be a life-saving experience. 

Thinking that a Level III armor plate is going to stop multiple hits from an AR-15 is just down-right dangerous. Be sure to educate yourself on this because there are some armor manufactures out there who aren’t doing their part in that. 

ShotStop® Level III+ body armor will make light work of any AR-15, hunting rifle, or AR-style pistol that police can run into on the streets.

Hopefully this blog sheds some light on why Level III+ armor is so important and why you should buy it instead of a Level III plate. 

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1 comment

  • Thanks for the enlightenment I have got it clearly now

    Godwin Hosea on

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