Is Level III Armor Worthless?


By Andrew Betts

We recently ran an article demonstrating that .223 Rem varmint ammunition could poke holes right through an AR500 Level III plate. This prompted some people in the forums to pronounce that Level III armor is worthless. Are they right? Are you wasting your money to buy a Level III plate?

If one had unlimited funds and expected a strong possibility of getting into a firefight at close range with rifles, it would be smart to buy the best, lightest Level IV plate that exists. Often, internet commandos opine that anything that isn’t “the best” is automatically worthless and this is far from the truth. The truth is that Level III plates protect from a huge range of threats, including many threats for which they are not even rated.

The plate in that test defeated 7N6 5.45x39mm at 3,167 fps. This is substantially faster than the 2,750 fps that is required for NIJ Level III. There is no such thing as a bulletproof material so there are rounds out there that can penetrate it. Anything moving faster than 3,200 fps, give or take, is very likely to pass through. On the other hand, Anything moving slower is very likely to be stopped. That means that this plate will protect you from 7.62x51mm, 7.62x39mm, most .223 Rem or 5.56x45mm, and virtually any handgun ammunition.

If you think in terms of what the plate won’t stop and the fact that there are rifle plates out there that can stop those threats, you are likely to be disappointed. If you consider the fact that a Level III plate can stop everything that Level IIIA soft armor can stop but costs a fraction of what a IIIA vest costs and can even stop some rifle rounds, it starts looking much more attractive. It makes sense to have the very best if wearing armor is a part of your daily routine, but if you are just purchasing armor to use occasionally in training classes and in the event of a civil disorder emergency, then a $65 Level III plate from makes a lot of sense.

It is also worth mentioning that Level IV ceramic plates can be damaged by rough handling. Now, they aren’t nearly as fragile as some folks would have you believe, but if your primary use case involves a situation where you cannot replace the plates, steel plates are very attractive because they can take some substantial abuse. As always, it is your responsibility to do your research and adequately analyze your threat environment, then do a proper risk analysis. You are the only person who can decide what, if any armor, is the best choice for you.