What You Got Wrong About Steel Armor

This is a guest post by Andrew Bettshit shot 9mm in Kevlar bulletproof vest

We recently ran an article about level III steel armor that prompted some people to conclude that level III armor was entirely worthless while others wondered why an ordinary person would even want armor. Let’s address both of those issues.

It is true that there are a great number of YouTube videos out there where folks poke holes in level III armor. If you give a man a piece of steel and tell him it stops bullets, he’s probably some kind of hippie freak if he doesn’t immediately start trying to dream up ways to poke holes in the armor. Take this 8mm test, for example:

Sure, the 8mm punched right through the armor at close range, but the ammo used is not very common at all. It is an obscure loading in a cartridge that was once popular but is arguably obsolete. It produces velocities much higher than is typical for that cartridge and, while the ammunition is not actually AP, it is steel jacketed. More to the point, Level III armor is not designed or rated to stop this particular threat.

Is it possible that Tyrone the tweaker breaks into your home with an antique military rifle? Sure. I guess, but he is a lot more likely to be armed with a screwdriver or 9mm Hi-Point. It might be a slightly greater possibility that this combination is seen in a WROL/SHTF situation, but remember that the armor still defended against that cartridge just 65 yards away. It is far more likely that this plate would protect you, than that you win the bad luck lottery and manage to get shot with a cartridge that can defeat the armor at a close enough distance that it can get through.

Yes, when you shoot the armor with ammunition for which it was not rated, sometimes it fails. Surprisingly, that is not always the case, though. There are many threats out there for which the armor is not rated that it can still defeat.

The 7N6 5.45x39mm used in this test significantly exceeds the velocity rating of this plate, but it was still stopped by the plate. If any commonly available 5.45mm ammunition was going to get through, it should have been 7N6.

Those who complain that the plate is unable to stop certain, very specific rounds at close range are missing the bigger picture. The real takeaway is not what the plate can’t stop, it is the fact that level III steel armor is very affordable, yet will protect from the majority of common threats out there. The base model plate from AR500Armor.com costs $65 and is able to defend against all of the threats that a more expensive soft IIIA panel can stop and in addition to that, it can stop many common rifle threats. Instead of thinking of it as a rifle plate that has some significant limitations, it might be useful to consider it as pistol armor that will also stop some rifle threats.

But why would an average person want armor? Why would an average person want a gun, a fire extinguisher, or a first aid kit? A gun can help you to stop a bad guy from doing harm, but only armor can stop bullets after they are already fired. If someone breaks into your home, you probably will not even need to discharge your firearm. If you do have to shoot, though, it is possible that you find yourself in a desperate fight. Real life is not like the movies, if you shoot a man in your home, he is not likely to collapse instantly to the ground unless you get a central nervous system hit. That means that if you find yourself in a fight, there is a strong possibility that both of you shoot and you both get shot. Wearing armor to protect your vital organs significantly increases your odds of survival. Remember, it isn’t just about you, either. If you have a family, you have a responsibility to stay in that fight until the threat is stopped. Again, wearing armor gives you a better chance to do that. Having a plate carrier handy that you can throw on quickly protects you, but it also means that you can have a phone, extra mags, a light, and a first aid kit on your person when something goes crash while you’re sleeping in your tighty whities.

Armor is not a magical wizard shield, though. Whether you choose a level IIA soft vest or level IV ceramic rifle plates, all armor has its limitations. For one thing, it only protects your torso. It also is not so important that you should spend money on armor rather than spending it on training. No matter what tools you bring to the fight, mindset and training matter far more.


Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

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