Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

A recent hubbub surrounding a manufacturer of steel plates for body armor highlights the importance of choosing a good manufacturer.

It has come to light that this company used the excellent Armox Advance (manufactured by SSAB in Sweden, a reputable and highly respected company) to make their newest plates, which on the surface had impressive specs: .196″ thick (before coating) and under 5 lb. for a 10X12 plate, in a complexly curved plate (almost unheard of). They claimed that the plates would stop M193 at 3100+ FPS, which based on the capabilities of the steel, they should have. Seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

Several testers immediately reported that the plates were failing, and failing rather dramatically at well below the stated velocity threshold.

Some sleuthing (which uncovered a patent application by this company), showed that in order to press the plates into the comfortable multi-curve profile, the company had…wait for it…ANNEALED the blanks.

To my non-metallurgist readers, that means the plates were heated up to what is known as critical temperature (around 1600 F for this particular steel), which removes all hardness. The plates were then apparently re-heated and re-hardened (NOT by SSAB, but by the company in question) after forming. Which is why the failures should surprise no-one.

There are no free lunches.

Steel for body armor is certified by the manufacturer, right up to the point it is meddled with.

Stripping the factory heat treat to make it easier to bend can turn a previously excellent steel into just another piece of random plate. 80% of a given high performance steel’s properties are in the heat treat, the remaining 20% are the chemistry and how the piece is shaped/engineered. Thinking that they could equal the heat-treat of SSAB using standard commercial methods was pure irresponsible hubris, and could have cost lives. There is a reason curved Armox Advance plates are rare, and usually single curve.

Unfortunately, it is incidents like this that give steel rifle plates an undeservedly bad reputation, and it is up to reviewers and end-users to educate themselves. Purchase steel plates from well-known, vetted companies such as Patriot Plate, Spartan, AR500, and others.

And while it is laudable to want to innovate and improve, manufacturers of body armor need to have a grasp of some basic, basic fundamentals of the materials they are working on, and rigorously test their product in-house (the above issue would have been avoided had the company in question actually tested the finished plates before letting them out the door).

It is my hope that this company will do the right thing and refund the money of their customers that purchased these plates, and replace them with plates that have been tested and pass QC.

As always, do your homework, and I will do my part to get this information to the end users.

Over the past six months, there has been a great deal of both excitement, and lately concern, regarding the Armour Wear AR680 plate. Touted as a “level III+” plate, it is claimed to stop the extremely dangerous M193 high-velocity threat.

In the past few months, extremely un-scientific tests on Youtube seemed to “prove” that it was prone to failure when shot by M193 @ 3200 fps.

Unfortunately, Armour Wear did not originally release a very scientific test video themselves.

At this juncture, I have not seen proof either way, either validating or disproving the efficacy of the AR680 plates. Simply because both the proponents (the company in particular) and the detractors (youtube channel) did not take the small amount of extra time and effort to arrange a proper test.

A proper test is *NOT*:

Setting up a bunch of plates on a berm at a 45 degree angle and blazing away willy-nilly.
Setting up a huge sheet of the steel (again, at a range), and (again), blazing away.
Clamping the plate to a rigid fixture, with no backing, and shooting it.

To properly test body armor, hard or soft, requires the use of a backing. The NIJ specifies no.1 Roma Plastalina modeling clay. Any semi-flexible backing will do, as long as it is close in consistency to a human body. The reason for this is two-fold: first, to be able to determine how much energy (backface deformation) is being imparted to the wearer. Secondly (and for the purpose of this post, more importantly), to mimic the physics of the armor being worn.

A plate that is clamped to a rigid fixture will behave differently than one that is resting on a flexible surface. A rigid plate will have no give, and the round will transfer more energy to the plate. With a proper backing, the initial impact will be reduced ever so slightly.

For some armor (soft armor in particular) this will make the difference between complete penetration, and performing as designed (setting a soft armor vest against a plywood or other hard surface enables it to be penetrated with ease). This will also have relevance with hard armor, especially if it is near its failure threshold.

In the same way, propping a plate at an angle will allow it to stop far more than at 0 degrees of obliquity. MBT armor is sloped for this same reason.

As a result of the above, I will be performing a scientific (or at least, much more so than has been performed so far) comparitive shoot test on the Armour Wear AR680 and Maingun Patriot 2 Advance plates. I had contacted Spartan Armor in an attempt to source one of their level III+ plates to include in the test, but have not heard back from them.

It is my hope that this test will settle any arguments once and for all regarding M193 high velocity protection. Stay tuned!

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time is probably aware of my opinion of laminates (not great). UHMWPE laminates are not recommended for use in soft armor at all (due to heat degradation and contact-shot issues), while Aramid based laminates have problems with delamination, heat/sweat retention, and similar difficulties with muzzle-contact shots.

Despite several generations of laminates being produced since the original iteration was released back in the 90’s, the problems remained- limited lifespan of the armor package due to creeping edge delamination, feeling like you were swathed in plastic shrink-wrap (which, essentially you were), and poor performance against shots that allowed hot muzzle blast to melt the plastic film holding the unidirectional layers together.

These glaring deficiencies have prompted the major developers of aramid-based ballistic materials, Teijin and DuPont, to create a new generation of materials that attempt to combine the admitted advantages of laminates (extremely thin ballistic packages, greater flexibility, good edge and high angle hit resistance) with the known advantages of woven aramids (breathability, no delamination worries, greater ballistic package longevity).

These efforts led to the debut of DuPont’s Kevlar XP in 2009, and Teijin’s Twaron LFT SB1 in 2012 and LFT SB1+ in 2013. These materials utilize a hybrid of both woven and laminate technology, and so the term “wovenates” is best used to describe them. Rather than using the traditional, and flawed method of encapsulating with a plastic film, both companies chose to use a very flexible resin to saturate the fibers. This obviates delamination, and also allows for a much thinner overall ballistic package. The two different designs (XP and SB1) rely upon tried and true aramid fibers arranged in unique fashion, similar to standard woven Kevlar fabric. This combination of attributes makes for a highly flexible, yet durable material.

Additionally, these materials have been tested and shown to provide significant reduction in both weight, and backface deformation (particularly SB1+). Sweat management is much better than previous laminates, due to the construction of these materials.

Examination of used ballistic packages made with these materials do not exhibit delamination or degradation even after several years of heavy use, and testing shows that they still provide the same level of protection that they started with.

At this time, I can endorse the use of these materials (Kevlar XP and Twaron SB1/SB1+) as viable options for personal protective gear, comparable to woven Aramids. I have not evaluated their effectiveness against contact shots, but will do so in the near future.

Stay tuned for more information!

Have finally had a moment to update the Recommended Armor Database. Alot has changed, and some items have either been superseded (AR680/Ultra-Hard Steel Plates are now best practices in the steel category, Mil-HHS is minimum acceptable, and AR500 should no longer be used for anything except training targets), or even discontinued (Midwest SIGMA III+).

Due to US Armor’s ludicrous “no civilians” policy, I cannot and will not recommend their products until such time as they change, and so I do not have any concealable armor listed currently (The US Armor Enforcer Classic IIIA being the only soft armor that meets my standards).

As always, please contact me if you feel something should be added to the list.

With the wearing of hard armor to defeat rifle threats becoming both more common, and more affordable, there seems to be conflicting opinions on plate sizing. One school of thought argues for maximum coverage- setting up the plate carrier with oversize side plates, and 11X14 (or even larger!) front and rear plates. The argument being, the greater area of coverage will result in greater survivability.

The other school of thought stipulates that the more steel or ceramic you strap on, the less mobile you will be. Smaller (8X10) primary plates, no side plates, or even omitting the rear plate, are all suggested to lighten the load, or to allow more ammo/sustainment gear to be carried.

Both schools have their merits. However, the latter school has a slight edge in my opinion (your mileage may of course vary). Smaller plates, while not providing as much coverage as larger plates, still do a good job of covering “the box” (Cardio-pulmonary box, containing the heart, large vessels/arteries, and a majority of the lungs). The role of armor is to allow you to stay in the fight longer, not make you invulnerable. A lighter, smaller plate improves mobility, resulting in less fatigue and more combat effectiveness. Not getting hit is always preferable to standing and taking rounds.

Secondly, omitting the rear and side plates (unless in a situation requiring the wearer to be stationary/defensive), may encourage a more pro-active/agressive mindset. Keeping “front towards threat” is not a bad habit to cultivate.

So unless you envision yourself in a fixed defensive situation, it may be worthwhile to consider lightening the load, and choosing smaller/fewer plates.

I can still remember 10 years or so ago, when steel plates were relatively rare. You had DBT, and one or two other options. Steels used were the expensive MARS 500 or similar.

Fast forward to now. Ebay is awash with sellers making their own versions of steel rifle plates, mostly using AR500 steel, a select few using MIL-Spec HHS (A46100), and some using SUB-standard (pun intended) steels. The latter, known as High Yield, is literally used in the building of submarine hulls.

HY-80, or High Yield 80, is a great steel to withstand high pressure at great depth. What it lacks is the hardness found in A46100 and AR500. This little detail can lead to bad things happening when it is shot by high velocity rifle rounds.

A gentleman on the “Toob” (Nellz442) did a shoot test with several common rounds, and while the plate easily handled pistol, and shrugged off 7.62X39, 5.45 punched it.

5.45 is an easier threat to stop than M855. Yes, it is still a hyper velocity, small caliber threat, which can give AR500 plates pause. But unlike AR500, HY-80 does not have the hardness to resist indentation, which allows it to be holed by a round that it was claimed to stop:

The second test (since removed from Youtube) using the backside of the plate showed M855, .30-06 SOFT POINT and 7.62X54 sailing right through.

This is an excellent opportunity for a reality check- it is fine to want inexpensive armor, but if that armor does not perform as intended/advertised, you have actually just spent far more than you would have if you purchase known effective steel in the first place. AR500 steel is still a decent baseline, and A46100 is still the gold standard for economical, and highly effective rifle armor.

Leave the SUB-standard steel for the submarines.

On Friday, House Democratic Rep Mike Honda exposed his mistrust for the American Public by suggesting that only the military or law enforcement should be allowed to possess, sell, or purchase hard armor:

https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/5344/text

http://www.guns.com/2014/08/08/congressman-wants-to-ban-sale-of-enhanced-body-armor-to-civilians/

What this outlandish legislation would do is instantly make felons out of millions of honest Americans. Banning an inanimate object because of what a vanishingly few *MAY* do with it is not only illogical and irresponsible, but unlawful under the public law. It is the equivalent of banning the wearing of seat belts in cars.

Please get out your quill and parchment, and WRITE to the Senators to voice your disapproval of this preposterous affront to health and safety. Armor is part and parcel of ARMS. We the Public need to be heard.

Well, apparently my last post was a little too pointed, as it has already garnered a response. Unfortunately, the response was based on the notion that I am a “supporter” of steel plates over ceramic.

If anyone can show, unequivocally, where I have ever written that steel plates are completely “superior” to ceramic plates, they get a free rock sling.

This is why reading comprehension is so vital, and yet found lacking in most interactions.

Please re-read The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. No dogs are selected to fight. Just the basic facts about each choice.

I think the problem is that I did not “bash” steel enough compared to ceramic. I will not do so. I make the assumption that all my readers wear big-boy pants, and when I say that steel is HEAVY for type, and experiences FRONT FACE SPALL, they are intelligent enough to weigh these drawbacks versus the advantages. I am not interested in impugning their intellect, or questioning their “seriousness.”

Furthermore, steel is out there. People are using it and will continue to use it. Arguing against something that has such major market penetration is tantamount to arguing against certain computer operating systems, even though we know they have flaws. Instead of lambasting people for their choices, I choose to do something to make that choice safer, just as you can improve your experience with the aforementioned OS with some simple, minor changes. When steel ceases to be used for personal protective gear, so be it.

Finally, it is amusing to me that the response came so quickly- I was not directing it at anyone in particular, certainly not at the guy that responded (inadvertent recon by fire?), but it made my point very clearly. Making a fully informed choice is not purchasing a stake in a fertilizer concern.

The internets are full of pi**ing matches. I am not going to engage in any here.

Let me reiterate, in case the above was too verbose:

Steel= GOOD!
Ceramic= GOOD!
UHMWPE= GOOD!

They will all stop centerfire rifle rounds. They all cost varying amounts of money. They all have varying material properties. They are not all the same. Pick one, or two, or all. Use them. Train with them.

Providing objective evaluations on these different material options does not place me into any “faction.” Providing enhancements to any or all of them does not place me into any “faction.” Except perhaps the “faction” that wants to make any and all armor better and safer.

As Musashi said, know your tools, their strengths and weaknesses. If you do, you will use anything to the fullest extent.

It seems that over the past few years there is a growing factionalism and hardening of opinions within the shooting/gear community, and more specifically, regarding choices of armor.

Lately, there have been several very strong pieces written about the complete unsuitability of steel rifle plates, and that ceramic is the *only* viable choice for those who are “serious” about protecting themselves.

While I appreciate an impassioned, well-written argument as much as the next guy, I think that such rigid positions do a disservice to those seeking an honest comprehension of the various self-protection options.

The current “hot topic” of debate seems to be steel vs. ceramic, with proponents of the latter insisting that steel rifle plates have no place whatsoever in the self-protection arena. Ceramic, they argue, is far superior in every way, and steel is nothing but heavy, dangerous, useless dead weight.

One of the primary reasons I started this site was to provide balanced, reasoned, and honest evaluations of various materials and armors that are out there. While it is true that steel has known issues and challenges, ceramic is not perfect, and downplaying these considerations (COST and fragility being the two biggest), do not make them go away. While it is true that there are VERY affordable ceramic plates (the Midwest Guardian IV being at the very top of the list), and also true that ceramic plates are not porcelain dolls, to ignore the fact that EVERY armor (throughout history) is a compromise of many different factors is to ignore reality.

Most people purchase steel plates because they are the most affordable option. They are also hands down the most durable, and if someone has honestly evaluated their needs, and found that they don’t want to worry about their logistics tail (replacing a broken ceramic plate) and would rather allocate the difference in cost to other areas (training/ammo/etc.), then deriding them for their “inferior” choice is not going to alter their decision. It is true that steel plates are heavy for type, and do have issues with front face splash (albeit less of an issue with proper spall-mitigation technologies). But for someone that wants an inexpensive, demonstrably effective way of keeping centerfire rifle rounds out of their vitals, without breaking the bank, steel works.

I advocate selecting the correct tool for the job, and will say right now that not everyone NEEDS a sub-4.5lb. level IV ceramic plate for their particular task. While it is a “nice to have,” most cannot justify the commensurate high cost associated with the “best” armor.

In conclusion, I recommend folks re-read the “Good, Bad, Ugly” posts again. Each of the three major plate types has pros and cons- there is no BEST option for all people or all roles. Know your needs, and know the options. Strong opinions are good, but they should be tempered by the realization that not everyone needs/wants the same thing.