Posts Tagged ‘rifle plates’

The legendary Tactical Armor Products GAMMA III+ series of plates was one of the most highly regarded rifle plates of its time. With decent weight, good quality build materials, and excellent stopping power, the now extinct TAP’s plates command a premium on the secondary market.

To fill the vacuum left by the discontinuation of the GAMMA, Midwest Armor stepped up to the plate. Like pretty much everything else in their linup, their continuation of the lineage, the SIGMA, was a grand slam.

I ordered my sample of this plate from Appalachian Training. Though they did not even have it officially in stock at the time, Mike was more than happy to get the ball rolling. The plate was a little over $449 shipped, thanks to Appalachian’s enviable flat rate shipping rate.

Due to an unfortunate (albiet very minor) issue with the plate’s PU finish, I got to experience the superhuman customer service that both Appalachian, and Midwest, strive for. I alerted Mike to the issue, and from that moment, it was as if a small army of extremely efficient Armor Ninjas were set in motion. I had an RMA number and label in my hands within mere hours, and the plate was back to Midwest, but NOT BEFORE they had already initiated shipping on a replacement. The box showed up two days later, full of extra goodies (some edible, some not). Now that, folks, is how CS is done.

The replacement plate arrived in good order, and the unboxing commenced. Even though this is armor, and is rugged as heck, the packing job done by Midwest would have kept a dozen eggs from getting so much as a single crack. The extra little details really matter.

Midwest Sigma 3+ front strike face.

Midwest Sigma 3+ front strike face.

The first impression of the plate was “tough.” The tan PU coating is really grippy and resilient. Curvature is not too extreme, and fit my plate carrier very nicely (SKD PIG). Weight is right at 5.45 lb. and thickness is 1.27″. The weight puts this into the “just under medium” category. Much lighter than steel, it is still heavier than the pure UHMWPE plates. However, this is due to the welcome addition of a thin ceramic strike face (in keeping with the GAMMA theme), which allows it to defeat the Green Tip M855, the bane of all UHMWPE plates.

Rear face with label

Rear face with label

Thickness is right at 1.27"

Thickness is right at 1.27″

Overall, I give this plate 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only reason it was not 5 stars is that I generally don’t give 5 star ratings to anything. This plate is rugged, relatively affordable, and comes with a 5 year warranty (and take it from me, if you need the warranty, you will be well taken care of).

Kudos to Midwest Armor and Appalachian Training. They make and sell excellent products.

http://www.midwestarmor.com/body-armor/sigma-iii

http://store.appalachiantraining.com/SearchResults.asp?Search=sigma&Submit=

The final class of materials for use in rifle plates is a familiar face- UHMWPE. Despite its drawbacks in soft armor format, in hard/rigid applications, this material does not show as many weaknesses. For reasons that are still not fully understood, the heat tolerance of PE hard armors is much better than soft armors (showing a danger zone of 195-200 degrees F rather than 180 F). This may be due to the typically thicker profile, thus providing a larger thermal mass to heat (taking longer and requiring more ambient heat to achieve irreversible denaturing). Also, contact shots are not as likely to have such a high risk of penetration due to the physical properties of a rigid defense compared to a flexible.

In addition to finding wide application as the backing material in many (if not most) ceramic plates (and a VERY effective steel/UHMWPE hybrid by Armored Mobility, the TAC3S), it is also used as the sole material in a significant number of plates by various manufacturers. In a hard armor format, UHMWPE offers some notable advantages: it is positively buoyant (it floats), is immune to acids, zero spallation/splash, and makes for the lightest rifle plate available. The drawbacks are moderate-high cost, and the thickest profile of any rifle plate (some have likened it to wearing a Wheaties box on your chest). In addition, UHMWPE plates typically do not stop M855 Green Tip ammunition, while having no difficulty with M193 (the opposite of most steel plates).

UHMWPE plates stop rounds by means of frictive braking. The fibers of UHMWPE squeeze and apply compressive braking force to rounds that strike. Generally the projectile is embedded about halfway into the armor when it is stopped. This leads to no splash or spallation, since the round remains mostly intact. M855 is thought to penetrate due to the incompressibility of the steel penetrator. Regardless of the mechanism, it is important to take into account when considering potential threats.

Due to their properties, some applications (maritime, swimmers) tend to benefit from their use. If the thicker profile is not a hindrance, they can be quite effective. As always, assess your needs and potential threats before making a decision.

Steel rifle plates have several advantages, especially for certain applications (PSD, concealed). they are the thinnest profile of all rifle plate styles, are generally very inexpensive, do not suffer from fragility issues inherent with ceramic plates, and handle multiple hits extremely well (some plates have been documented with hundreds of rounds while still retaining their protective qualities).

Interior of 6X6 splash guard after M193 3100 fps impact @ 10 feet on AR500 steel side plate. Non penetrating strike.

With all these advantages, there are several drawbacks, the largest and most pressing being that of front face spall (also known as splash). Spall refers to any ejecta resulting from an impact event. Rear face spall has been an issue mainly with tanks/AFVs for as long as they have been used. In WWI, British and German tank crews suffered casualties from rounds impacting the armor and kicking off shards of the plates at high velocity. Even though the rounds may not have penetrated, damage was still done. The British took advantage of the principle of spall with their development of the HESH round after WWII. This was an explosive shell with a soft head, which, when it hit the enemy vehicle, exploded on the outside. The shock wave blew large chunks of spall off the interior of the vehicle.

Front face spall, or splash, is the result of the projectile disintegrating into a cloud of high velocity fragments. The cloud usually manifests as a primary and secondary conoid of splash, the first being made up of the larger jacket pieces. This usually bounces back at an angle very close to the initial strike. The secondary conoid, which makes up about 80% of the total splash threat, travels primarily along the face of the plate, to exit at close to 90 degrees from the original strike. It is this conoid that presents the greatest threat to life and limb.

Because of how steel rifle plates function, this unfortunate property occurs every time a bullet is successfully stopped. Stopping the round is the purpose of the plate, but up until recently, no consideration was given to keeping the face, throat, and extremities safe from the cloud of cutting fragments. Generally, higher velocity rounds produce more spall (the M193 is a more dangerous round for splash than M80 ball, for instance). The core composition will also play a large role in splash/spall. The M855 produces less spall, due to a larger volume of the core being taken up by a mild steel penetrator. The penetrator is fairly easy to trap with spall mitigation technologies. Close range impacts will obviously pose a greater spall/splash risk than longer distance shots.

Early solutions (still used today) involved plastic or elastomer coatings (in some cases, the same materials used as truck bed liners). These coatings range in thickness from fractions of a millimeter, to nearly half an inch. While effective (at least in the thicker iterations), the material is removed by each successive hit, and in the thinner versions, the spall mitigation is very limited. The main drawbacks involve the thickness of effective coating depth, which mitigates the main point of steel plates (their thin profile), the fact that the coating is permanently removed (which is difficult or impossible to replace). Coated plates often have an offensive, strong chemical odor as well. Coating steel plates is not a bad rust-preventative, but the thinnest coating is recommended.

Other, more recent solutions involve adding metallic components to the plate. While undoubtedly effective at catching splash exiting the sides of the plate, adding MORE metal, MORE weight, and MORE thickness to already heavy plates is not an optimal solution.

Some users have attempted various DIY “solutions,” which usually include haphazard combinations of duct tape, epoxy, gorilla glue, woven aramid or UHMWPE, or brush-on truck bed liner. These solutions are a poor choice, tending to turn steel plates into a messy, ugly, smelly, and above all, ineffective mess. The plates will still stop the rounds as usual, but the splash mitigation is negligible. Because the attempts do not take into account the dynamic nature of an impact, the strong adhesion will couple the facing materials to the plate, resulting in very quick erosion of the homemade guards. This, combined with poor choice of materials (woven Kevlar fabric, or UHMWPE laminate) guarantees failure.

Specially designed slip-on guards utilizing custom engineered/manufactured aramid blend fibers have so far proven to be the best combination of attributes for capturing front face splash/spall. These guards can be removed, swapped between plates, or replaced once used, and are thin, light, and above all, COMFORTABLE. They can be built for ANY steel (or ceramic, for that matter) plate currently extant.

Steel plates can be an excellent choice, but it is vital for end users to be aware of potential safety issues. There are several options for mitigating splash, each with their unique benefits and weaknesses. Above all, ensure you are using adequate splash protection if you choose to run steel rifle plates, and keep your face and extremities safe!

https://drmorgear.wordpress.com/products/spall-guards/

IMGP0255

Steel protective plate are a great option if you are looking for both thin profile and affordable costs, but do have a well known issue that can be hazardous to your health: bullet splash (also known as front-face spall).

Splash is the result of projectiles breaking up on impact with the steel plate (and in fact, is part of the plate doing its job to save your life). This cloud of razor sharp lead and copper poses its own threat to life and limb when exiting the top, bottom, and sides of your plate carrier. This should be taken into consideration when purchasing/using steel plates (and even many ceramic plates).

Other solutions negate the advantages of steel plates, by making them thicker and even heavier. They are also difficult to repair or replace, negating another of steel’s advantages (its durability/multi-hit properties).

Look no further than the D-Rmor Gear Splash guards, custom made and continually improved since 2007.

The D-Rmor Gear Splash/Front Face Spall guards work WITH the steel plate strengths, offering the following notable advantages:

-Thin
-Light
-100% all-fabric construction
-End-user replaceable
-Comfortable
-Effective

In addition, they carry a 100% lifetime guarantee: if they are ever used in a documented duty/self defense situation, they will be repaired or replaced, for the life of the product, fully transferable.

Available in Coyote Brown, and custom made to fit your plates! Check out the link for more information and to get your set today!

https://drmorgear.wordpress.com/products/spall-guards/