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John in AR 11-06-2017 01:35 PM

Armor plates testing
Recently did a not-particularly-scientific test on a couple hard armor plates, and these are the results for whatever they’re worth. There were two plates tested; a pretty typical 10x12 Level 3 from AR500 Armor, and an 11x14 ‘Lightweight Level 3+’ from Tactical Scorpion. First off, as most here are probably aware, there is no genuine “Level 3+” rating for armor; it goes from level 3 to level 4. But numerous makers are using the term as a marketing tool. I don’t like non-standardized claims, but if their stuff doesn’t make Level 4 rating, but does exceed Level 3 requirements, it doesn’t give me much heartburn if they use the term 3+; ymmv.

The inciting reason for wanting to test, was the fact that the Level 3+ stuff from TS is actually both lighter and thinner than the Level 3 stuff I had previously. Only something like 0.196” thick iirc. But metal that thin made me wonder about function and trustworthiness, so off to the range. I took the new TS 11x14 level 3+ with basecoat only, and an older 10x12 level three to which I’d previously applied around to 3/16” of herculiner in an attempt to counteract fragmentation concerns. (More later on how much that helped.)

The gun was a 16” Midwest Industries 1:8 twist, chambered in .223 Wylde (and a huge thank you to Garry Marr at Tremis Dynamics for the recommendation of that Midwest lightweight upper. It’s become far and away my favorite AR carbine). The ammo was Lake City M855 62-grain green-tip ‘penetrator’ 5.56 stuff, shot at 50 feet (between 16-17 yards).

In addition to seeing if the plates would stop the bullet, I also wanted to see how real the fragmentation (often referred to as “spall”, if we can keep the grammar police at bay) issue was, both with and without the admittedly-thin bedliner coating I’d added to one of them. Simplest way I could think of to see fragmentation effects was to simply put the plate in a box, so into a typical ‘banker box’ they went. Of course, being the genius that I am, when I got to the range I found that I’d only grabbed one banker’s box and had two plates to test; so I did the herculiner-coated plate first:

Before we get into more pictures, the short version of how well the plates did at their primary job of preventing bullet penetration — they both passed fine. The level 3 plate had a divot less than a 1/16” deep, and the divot on the thinner level 3+ plate was less than half that; very impressive. I really like the fact that the lightweight 3+ stuff lets me have a 11x14 plate for the weight of a 10x12; and that’s exactly what they weigh out to. They both weigh out to 8.2 lbs on the dot, which is more than 2lbs lighter than the 10.5 lbs that AR500 lists for their standard level 3 stuff in the 11x14 size. Basically, it means getting 11x14 coverage for the weight cost of 10x12; or looking at it another way, you can have 10x12 coverage for only ~6.4 lbs, vs. the 8.2 lbs. Factoring in both plates in a set, that means a weight savings of nearly five pounds in the 11x14 size, which is what I personally prefer.

On to the fragmentation/spall thing. After just one round onto the first plate, I have to admit I was surprised (and not in a good way) at how much damage there was from fragmentation. This is the top of the box, looking down. Where the words “Bankers Box” are, is right about where my chin would be when wearing the plate:

Based on that first round, I couldn’t help but think about all those sharp little metal things heading toward my throat at mach-2 or so. To be fair, when in use the plate would have the carrier to help stop the fragmentation effects, but it still surprised and bothered me and short of intentionally ruining a carrier, I really don’t know how much the carrier would stop the problem. So after doing some more searching, reading, and youtubing, I decided to go with a layered kevlar approach on the front of the plates. I scraped/peeled off the liner from the 10x12 plate I’d put it on, peeled off the basecoat from the 11x14 plate, and tried another approach that I frankly haven’t yet tested. It’s simply layers of kevlar, NOT pulled tight, and glued in place to create a pocket between itself and the plate for catching the fragments.

Whether it’s a genuinely good idea or not, I can’t say. Basically it’s taking the concept of “the carrier will protect you” that many embrace, and taking it several steps farther. What I did was to buy a couple yards of kevlar online, and used 3M’s ‘super 77’ spray adhesive. The first layer of kevlar (against the plate) overlaps only ” or so onto the back side of the plate, and is glued only there on the back side. The second layer wraps over a little more than an inch, and the third layer around two full inches. All layers are glued only on the back; the front is slightly loose. Again, I haven’t tested this approach yet, but if it works, it’s HUGELY faster and easier to achieve than the bedliner buildup was on the first plate.

So overall, completely happy with the TS Level 3+ plates (even though there's technically no such thing as "Level 3+", I realize), and hopefully will soon get to test out the new anti-frag approach.

{edit - one thing I failed to mention was how affordable these have gotten over the years. A curved Level 3 10x12 from AR500 Armor (same as I tested) can now be had for a whopping $65, or the Tactical Scorpion curved 10x12 level 3 can be had for only $49. The days of body armor being unaffordable are behind us; at least for now. In the future that may change, but today, it's crazy inexpensive. Frankly, that was another part of why I tested these - their low price can make them seem dubious functionally; but they both performed up to their rating level.}

John in AR 11-06-2017 01:35 PM

To give credit where it's due, this was the youtube video where I first encountered this approach:
View: [url][/url]

John in AR 11-06-2017 01:38 PM

Also, some "after" pics of the two plates.

Level 3 (10x12 with bedliner) impact closeup:

3+ plate (11x14 with basecoat) impact closeup:

While the impact crater/divot on the level 3 plate is noticeably deeper than on the 3+, from a functional standpoint both plates did their job (ie, protecting what was behind the plate) completely.

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