Modern Advancements In Military Body Armor

Modern Advancements In Military Body Armor

Necessity is the mother of invention.  When a long-running war breaks out, there are nearly always advancements in weapons, medicine, and communications technology.  

Few fields see advancements as fast as defensive equipment, however, since soldiers tend to perform better when they survive contact with the enemy.  

The most personal form of modern protection is the Ballistic Plate.

Background and History

When swords were all the rage, armor fashioned from thick leather gave way to hauberks. When arrows rained down constantly, shields tended to get bigger.  

Hauberks were part of the suit of armor worn by knights. Made of strong chain mail, a knight's hauberk protected the upper half of his body during a battle. 

Made of a metal fabric (chain mail) the material was, at the time, a lightweight part of a medieval knight's armor.

chain mail body armor

As modern ballistic and edged threats gain lethality, armor companies race to produce the most advanced plates possible. 

During WWII warfighters were issued flak jackets, which may have helped protect against shrapnel and debris, but did little to stop bullets.

1960 saw the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) kick start a program designed to standardize the development and testing of Law Enforcement ballistic armor. 

1970 saw Detroit pizzaman Richard Davis develop prototype bullet-resistant plates using the recently invented Kevlar fabric. A response to being mugged, the former Marine’s invention spawned his Second Chance body armor company.

The NIJ has continued its oversight of ballistic testing standards. Each level of protection has very specific testing requirements to be considered successfully rated.

For example, the Level III hard plates require “Compliance at Type III for hard armor or plate inserts requires that samples be tested in a conditioned state with 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).

ShotStop’s Duritium III ICW body armor is a great example of quality level III plates, with our Shooter cut plate weighing only 2.4 lbs.

Modern Military Use

At the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, Level III Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates were common. The hard plates were augmented by an additional soft plate insert. I wore these in a Ranger Body Armor (RBA) carrier, with a Ranger Assault Carrier Kit (RACK) from Tactical Tailor over it.  

These Level III SAPI plates could stop 7.62 steel-jacketed M80 rounds, though multiple hits could defeat the armor pretty quickly.

Later we switched to the modular plate carrier designs you commonly see, where the plate carrier itself is also the gear carrier through the use of MOLLE pouches. 

Molle Plate Carrier

Weight is always an issue for a ground troop, so it was common to see a line of Rangers outside the supply office jockeying for the smallest plates they could find. The plates were easily one the heaviest items we carried, so pounds saved there could make a huge difference.

Infantry units were seeing widespread adoption of the Interceptor vest by the early 2000s, which also featured SAPI plates as well as modular side plates, groin protection, and neck protection as well.

The silicon-carbide ceramic construction of the SAPI plates led to durability concerns, as a drop (even inside a gear bag) or a moderate fall could crack the plates, leading to greatly reduced effectiveness.

Level IV Enhanced-SAPI (E-SAPI) boron carbide plates with Spectra backing arrived in 2005, only to be superseded in performance by 2008’s forward-thinking X-SAPI. The X-SAPI was designed to protect against an unspecified “X-Threat”, with whispers around the industry suggesting that threat is a 7.62x54R AP round.

Each generational improvement brought not only increased ballistic protection but also increased field durability. To the dismay of warfighters (and their cartilage), each generational advancement also came with a significant weight increase.

The Modern Pinnacle

Level IV is currently the highest certification the NIJ offers, but there are plates on the market that offer protection that exceeds the testing standard. While the US military uses a different rating scale than the NIJ does, they’re easy enough to compare side-to-side.

The NIJ Level IV standard states “Compliance at Type IV for hard armor or plate inserts requires that samples be tested in a conditioned state with .30 caliber armor piercing (AP) bullets (U.S. Military designation M2 AP) with a specified mass of 10.8 g (166 gr) and a velocity of 878 m/s ± 9.1 m/s (2880 ft/s ± 30 ft/s).”

Stopping a hit from a 7.62 NATO armor-piercing round is a pretty impressive feat. Remember how I mentioned there are products that exceed the standard?

Say hello to our Duritium IV + HS body armor plates. During NIJ testing these composite polyethylene and ceramic hybrid plates stopped not one, but six armor-piercing rounds from a 7.62x63 (30-06) chambered rifle.

Not only are the Duritium IV+HS plates multi-strike capable, the plates also have a polyethylene perimeter to protect the plates themselves from the kind of damage ceramics are susceptible to, as discussed above.

The fact that the plates themselves have an additional protective barrier is one of the primary reasons we at ShotStop are able to offer an incredible 10-year warranty on them. Most of our competitors are only able to warranty their plates for 5 years.

Finally, we get down to weight, the eternal bane of the ground troop. The ShotStop Duritium IV+HS plates weigh about 5lbs per plate, approximately the same as an XL level III SAPI plate.

Some of that weight is offset by the fact that we offer both the SAPI cut, and the more comfortable Shoot cut plate, giving you greater comfort and range of motion.

Real World Threats

These Duritium IV+HS plates are designed to stop exactly the kinds of threats our warfighters may face now and in the near future.

When the US left Afghanistan, thousands of small arms were left behind. M4’s, M249 SAW’s, and plenty of M240B’s, not to mention enough ammo to feed those guns for countless firefights.

It doesn’t take much to stretch the imagination into a scenario where our troops will be fighting in the region against forces armed with our own guns.

An ambush against M4’s and an M240B augmented by a handful of AK-47’s and perhaps support from a Dragunov-armed marksman? Rounds that would normally smash through a level III SAPI plate are stopped cold by ShotStop’s Duritium IV+HS armor.

That’s protection you can’t put a price on.

How Can ShotStop Help?

ShotStop is not only offering class-leading protection, but is also selling our level IV plates at a price that’s cheap enough for the individual citizen, officer, or soldier to buy. Furthermore, ShotStop offers a 15% discount for law enforcement and military.

There’s an additional discount if your department or unit is looking to make a bulk purchase, though for that contacting us directly would be the best course for a quote.

Choosing ShotStop means giving yourself the best chance to survive a deadly encounter, without killing your budget.

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