There are two primary categories of bulletproof armor available on the market. One is ceramic and the other is steel. This is a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type.
First, all armor comes in ratings of 2A, 2, 3A, 3, and 4.
Level 2 armor types are soft armor, such as padded Kevlar designed to stop pistol rounds. Level 2 armor is rated to stop a soft point .357 magnum round traveling at 1,430 ft/s.
Level 3A is normally soft armor, but level 3 is exclusively hard armor. A level 3 rifle plate will stop a 7.62×51 FMJ round traveling at 2,780 ft/s.
Level 4 plates are hard-rated armor, capable of stopping armor piercing rounds.
Ceramics are made of composite materials, not like your dishware or tile floor. Most common amongst ceramic plates is aluminum oxide, normally backed by Polyethylene or Kevlar to absorb some of the blunt force of the impact. The advantage of ceramic plates is that they are much lighter than steel, coming in at 6.5 to 8 pounds per plate. Ceramic plates also capture the bullet, containing it completely without spalling escaping as dangerous shrapnel. However they are costly, ranging between $450-650 per plate, and they can’t be handled too roughly. Ceramic plates are also rated for limited strikes, some level IV armor for instance is rated to withstand 6 strikes of 30-06 at 100 yards, but not more.
Steel armor plates are normally made of AR500, AR650 and MIL-A 46100. These are increasing ratings of the steel’s hardness. Steel plates are far less costly than ceramic armor, but weigh a great deal more. A level 3 rated steel plate weighs as much as a level 4 ceramic one. Steel can normally endure more sequential hits than ceramic armor, which also means that the plate doesn’t need to be replaced if it’s been struck once. However, steel’s major downside is spalling. Bullets fragment against the surface of the steel plate, sending lead and copper shavings in all directions. These atomized bullet fragments can be tremendously lethal, especially if they penetrate the neck and chin.
Other downsides of steel armor are their vulnerability to high-velocity rounds. A level 3 AR500 plate can be penetrated by M193 or M855. Steel armor also fails to cushion the energy from a strike, and delivers more blunt force to the wearer.
Choosing a balance of cost, protection, and weight is a decision only you can make, but hopefully this quick guide can get you started as you consider what armor type is best for you.
Author: Darryl Walker