Posts Tagged ‘steel rifle plates’

IMPORTANT EDIT 11-23-2015: It has come to my attention that these plates may not perform as certified regarding M193 high velocity rounds. Until such time as I have conducted a shoot test in direct comparison to the Maingun Patriot 2 plates, I cannot recommend these.

All those that have read The Good, The Bad and The Ugly series here at D-Rmor Gear know that steel rifle plates are an excellent choice. Thin, extremely durable, and inexpensive (compared to ceramic and UHMWPE), steel plates really only have two drawbacks: their weight (usually around 7.5 lbs. and up), and their susceptibility to high velocity M193 rounds.

This round, at or above 2950 fps, will reliably swiss-cheese garden variety AR500 steel (up until recently, the most common type of steel used in commercial rifle plates and target gongs). That means from any rifle with a barrel longer than 16″, M193 renders steel armor useless.

One of several companies that have stepped up to address this lack is Armour Wear. Their new AR680 level III+ (note the plus) steel plates will not only stop level III threats (M80 ball), but M855 Greentip below 3200 fps, and the notorious M193 below 3300fps. This is faster than M193 travels from the muzzle of a 20″ rifle.

Using an advanced type of steel, these plates are not only stronger, they are lighter and thinner. Upon unboxing the plate, the second thing I noticed (the first was how nicely it was packed) was the seeming thinness. While there is a Line-X coating to help mitigate front-face splash, it is not obnoxiously thick as I have encountered on some plates. Taking the measure with a digital caliper showed the thickness right at 10.17mm, or about twice the thickness of the steel. Not bad. Weight was right at 7 lbs. 2 oz., also not bad for a fully coated plate (considering that other steel plates previously available in III+ weighed in at over 8.5 lbs.)


I was struck by the quality and attention to detail. The coating was even, with no runs or sloppiness. The reverse of the plate includes a certification sticker, which contains the lot number, inspection number, and other information. Very impressive.


The curvature (extremely difficult to do with this type of steel!) was even, smooth and symmetrical.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the lower corners were clipped, as this has the double effect of reducing weight and wear on plate carriers.

Armour Wear currently makes the AR680 in three sizes: 10″ X 12″ (reviewed), 8″ X 10″ and 6″ X 8″ (flat). The 10X12 retail for $135, which although definitely more expensive than previous steel plates, is quite affordable when the extra capabilities are taken into consideration.

You can purchase these plates directly from Armour Wear here:

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.

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.

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.

Steel has been the material of choice for body armor for centuries, ever since the method for hammering out large, uniform sheets of bloomery iron was rediscovered in the 13th century. Today, advances in steel technology have continued to made this material viable as a protective material.

Steel plates find use in concealable armor as trauma plates, generally having a thickness of 1-3mm. These plates can provide everything from trauma-only, to standalone IIIA protection. Sizes range from 5″ X 8″ to 8″ X 10″. There are a few notable “in between” plates, such as the Second Chance K-30, which will stop 7.62X39 soft core.

Today, most steel plates will be of the “rifle” persuasion. It is important to note that currently, ALL steel rifle plates for personal protection are level III at the highest. Steel plates that will provide level IV (AP) protection are prohibitively heavy for use as wearable armor.

It is important to remember that level III spec calls for protection vs. 6 rounds of M80 ball @ 2750 fps. This means that many round can (and have) been able to defeat level III steel. A few years back, a minor scandal erupted when plates from a well-known manufacturer were found to be easily penetrated by M193 ball above 3000 fps (ironically, I had experienced this same phenomena a week prior to this revelation, and chalked it up to a bad batch of steel. M193 exceeds the shear strength of AR500 steel, and will cause shear-plug failure in the plate. Think a paper hole-puncher, but with steel. The full mechanism of why/how M193 penetrates steel armor is not fully understood, but there are several working theories (to be expounded upon later).

The upshot is, make sure when you buy steel plates, they have either been subjected to additional proof/bench testing, or do not trust them to stop anything but M80 ball.

Steel plates are nearly always sold as “ICW” (In Conjunction With), but I *ALWAYS* advise wearing soft armor behind them. This is for additional blunt force trauma protection, as well as catching any back face spallation (a possibility with all rifle plates).

Steel for rifle armor typically falls into a very specific hardness range, generally 500-600 Brinell (which is VERY hard as far as steel goes). AR500 (“Abrasion Resistant,” 500 Brinell) is the most commonly used commercial steel for rifle armors. It has good uniformity, low cost, and works fairly well.

There are a few other options regarding steel plates, specifically Bainitic steel, and HHS (High Hardness Steel). Bainitic steel utilizes a special heat treating process to produce a particular crystalline phase within steel, called Bainite. This material acts as reinforcement to the crystal lattice of steel, rendering it stronger and tougher than normal quenched/drawn steel plate. At this time, it is still not widely used in personnel armor, though it has found growing use in vehicular armor. Bainitic armor is an excellent choice for personal armor, though the price is typically about 1.5 times higher than normal AR500.

HHS is another option, and describes steel that is hardened to 600 Brinell or above. This allows it to be made thinner than AR500 while having greater ability to stop projectiles. It does have issues with cracking due to its extreme hardness, and is approximately twice as expensive as normal AR500 steel.

Steel plates are extremely durable, often capable of absorbing tens and even hundreds of hits while still retaining ballistic protection properties. With no fragility issues, steel plates are a good choice for use in scenarios calling for extreme ruggedness. With their thin profile (unless coated with a polymer/elastomer finish), they make a good choice for concealable/PSD use. Steel plates are also the most affordable/cost effective rifle armor solution.

One of the biggest drawbacks of running steel plates is their heavy weight. Most 10″ X 12″ steel level III plates weigh around 8 lb. EACH. There is also the issue of rust and corrosion. Finally, as has been discussed before, steel plates suffer from front face splash/spall. Projectiles stopped by the armor will splatter, sending clouds of high velocity core and jacket fragments at a 90 degree angle to the impact. This endangers the wearer’s face, throat, and extremities, and precautions need to be taken by the wearer (

In closing, it is important to evaluate your needs, and determine if steel plates are the correct choice. Next time, we will look at ceramic plates.

Stay safe!