Steel rifle plates are an affordable and effective option for those looking for rifle-round protection, as well as possessing the twin benefits of extreme durability and thin profile. As I have mentioned in previous iterations of TGTBTU, they represent a viable solution to everyone from LEOs to the prepared American.
Their one main drawback, aside from their weight (on average, higher than either ceramic or UHMWPE) was their susceptibility to the very common M193 threat. This round, in general, could be counted on to Swiss-cheese garden variety AR500 steel, if shot at or above 3000 fps (a disturbing fact that has been well-known since 2007).
It has been known to me for some time that there was a solution, but it warranted further investigation. That solution was/is Ultra Hard Steel. Most armor-rated steel possesses a Brinell hardness (BHN) of around 480-510 (the well known “AR500″). This standard steel, used for target gongs, and of late, rifle plates, is hard, but not hard/tough enough to stop M193 at high velocity. This round, due to its energy and small frontal profile, “punches” out cylinders of material, a mode known as “shear-plug failure.” UHS, by comparison, possesses extreme hardness, almost approaching that of ceramic (anywhere from 650-720 BHN).
This steel will easily stop M80 ball, M855, and M193 in 5mm thickness, meaning that rifle plates made with this material are truly triple-threat capable (these three rounds, along with 7.62X39 constituting the main threat spectrum most wearers need concern themselves with both in and OCONUS).
A new company called Armor Wear has become the first to bring an UHS plate to market, and my congratulations to them:
Calling their plates “AR680,” in reference to the BHN, these plates can be fully expected to stop M193 at a remarkable 3300 fps. The price point is $134 per plate, which although higher than regular AR500, is very reasonable given the exceptional capabilities. Weight for uncoated plates is 6.2 lb., which is the same or close to some ceramic plates on the market! With the build-up Line-X coating, the weight rises to 7.4 lb. per plate, but that is still a vast improvement over the older, less-effective AR500.
With this sea-change in the nature of steel rifle plates, I can now unhesitatingly recommend steel as every bit as good as ceramic and UHMWPE if weight is not a primary concern. From this point forward, UHS should be considered “best practices” if one is considering steel rifle plates.