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Old 10-24-2017, 06:25 PM   #1
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From: Central Arkansas

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Pistol-caliber carbines and soft armor

I recently stumbled across a good enough deal on some used soft armor that I’d put it to the test vis-à-vis some 9mm rounds launched from a carbine. Based on the numbers that my chronograph has shown with some of these loads thru the carbine, I felt certain that a 9mm carbine, loaded carefully, would defeat soft armor.

Being an unusually risk-averse individual, imo rather than a simple question of “will soft armor stop a carbine-launched 9mm round”, it makes more sense to ask two questions. Questions based on whether I’m the guy with the armor, or the guy with the carbine:

A – can I count on soft armor to stop a 9mm bullet fired from a bad guy’s carbine?

- and -

B – can I count on a 9mm bullet from a carbine to defeat a bad guy’s soft armor?


While seemingly intrinsic opposites, the answer to BOTH of those questions turns out to be “no”.

Because some rounds will penetrate, and some will not. The loads I tested included those that I assumed would be the ones most likely to defeat the armor (at least the most likely that I have on hand; there may be others better out there), as well as a couple that I really didn’t expect to penetrate, but was frankly just curious about. And the vest was a good-condition Level IIIA; the heaviest rating that soft armor comes with. Basically, I was trying to make things on BOTH sides of the equation as worst-case as possible.

The armor panel was a GH Armor Level IIIA manufactured in 2010. As stout a soft-armor panel as we’re going to encounter.

And in the other corner”, so to speak… the loads tested were as follows:
1 – Corbon Pow’rBall
2 – Corbon Urban Response
3 – Buffalo Bore 95-grain Tac-XP JHP
4 – Federal 9BPLE 115 JHP
5 – Buffalo Bore 124 FMJ-FP
6 – Double Tap 80-grain Tac-XP JHP
7 – Double Tap 115 JHP

Of those, I really didn’t expect the Pow’rBall or Urban Response to defeat the vest. They both run more than 1,800 fps thru my old marlin camp-9, but they’re designed for upsetting, not penetrating.

I wasn’t sure if ANY of the HP rounds would do any good, just by virtue of being HP rounds. The 9BPLE runs a little over 1,600 fps thru the gun, and I thought it ‘might’ succeed. The other HP rounds, I haven’t chrono’ed thru the gun and so really didn’t know what to expect.

The one I was most curious about was the 124-grain FMJ-FP (full metal jacket – flat point) from Buffalo Bore. Being fully jacketed was in its favor, but having a blunt, truncated-cone profile seemed like it would work against it; so I really didn’t know what to expect from it.

As I didn’t have a big block of gel or clay to back up the IIIA panel with, I tried to come up with something reasonable as a substitute. Putting it on something rigid like wood, would throw an advantage to the ammo. Putting it on something over-soft or just hanging loose, would throw an advantage to the vest. What I finally came up with was a big bag of rice bran; a typical 40 or 50 pound bag, commonly used for baiting deer. It is a little softer than clay or a human body, so its extra ‘give’ may have given a slight advantage to the panel, but the closest other option I had was bagged mortar powder, which would have almost certainly given an advantage to the ammo. To keep it as close as possible to the arrangement of a vest in use (ie, secured around a torso), I secured the panel to the bag with simple stretch wrap, as is used for securing palletized loads.

Short version – three of the seven rounds defeated the vest; both of the Tac-XP loads (95-grain Buffalo Bore and 80-grain Double Tap), and the Buffalo Bore 124 FMJ-FP. The 9BPLE and the Double Tap 115 JHP came close, but failed. I mean they came so close to defeating it that the impact of both loads ripped the inner nylon shell of the IIIA panel (up against the backer bag), but the bullet stayed in the vest. With a more rigid backer, they may have gone all the way through, but fact is, this time they didn’t. The two Corbon loads both failed to defeat the vest and were the least-penetrating of all loads tested, but that was no surprise at all. Not any kind of slam on them; they’re my primary 9mm carry loads and will continue to be so.

I do have a spare Level II (or maybe IIA) panel laying around that is old but has literally no wear on it; it was errantly included when I ordered my first duty vest in the 90’s, and the dealer said it wasn’t worth the hassle of sending back to the mfr (since they were individually cut to fit at the time) and just gave it to me. I may dig around for it some day and see how these same loads do on that lighter panel level. But for now, this one IIIA panel is all I’ve destroyed.

So can I count on my soft armor to protect me from a pistol-caliber carbine? Unfortunately, no.

So surely I can count on my 9mm carbine to defeat a goblin’s soft armor? Again, unfortunately no.

The IIIA vest defeated some very hot loads thru the carbine. And some very hot loads thru the carbine defeated the IIIA vest. It simply depends on the load in the gun, and the threat-level rating of the vest.
 
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Old 10-25-2017, 12:48 PM   #2
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 Terry G's Avatar
 
Joined: Jul 2004

Posts: 4,954
So the gist of this is, try not to get shot? Back in the day I was asked if the Viet Nam era flak vest's would suffice for our S.O.R.T. Team in lieu of expensive body armor. (like the Federal Government couldn't afford it). When I stopped laughing, I was told we got a shipment of 144 flak vest's brand new, and the Big Guy wanted them tested. I hung three up on target frame's and shot them with an M-16 A2, a 870 loaded with Number Four Buckshot, and a S&W 9MM. The procurement officer, the leading light behind the great saving's push, was in attendance. The 5.56MM three round burst went through the vest like it was Kleenex. The rear panel stopped some of the Number four, but the front was shredded. The 9MM NATO FMJ went through four panels when I doubled up two vest's. End of test. Body armor on order.
 
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