Tag Archives: Body Armor

Will Level III Armor Stop High Velocity 5.45mm?

By Andrew Betts

7N6 is some of the warmest 5.45x39mm ammunition available in the US, and it has a steel jacket. What’s more, 53 gr 7N6 is narrower and therefore has a higher sectional density than 5.56x45mm 55 gr M193, which we have already seen can easily defeat level III AR500 armor. Level III is not rated to stop 5.45x39mm, either so this was a difficult one to call.

At first glance, these results seem to be pretty definitive. The plate did stop the round. End of story, right? Maybe not. The impact velocity was 3,167 fps, which was just below the 3,248 fps that compromised an uncoated plate in an earlier test of .223 45 gr varmint ammo. That velocity difference is close enough that one shot cannot really be conclusive. Without at least a five shot average to determine extreme spread for the velocity of that load, we cannot know if the round that hit the plate was at the high or low end of the normal velocity range. Commie ammo has been known to have somewhat inconsistent velocity at times.

While the coating on the plate is not intended to provide any extra ballistic protection, with the velocity so close to the failure point of this plate, it is possible that the coating slowed and/or yawed the bullet just enough. It is also possible that the impact occurred right at or near the V50 of the plate for that round. That is the point at which 50% of the rounds will make it through and 50% will be stopped. It could simply be that this test represents a “lucky” shot.

We hadn’t noticed how close that velocity was to the previous failure point until we got home or we would have fired more rounds at the time. Rest assured, we will repeat the test when we have the opportunity. In the interim, it is interesting to know that this type of armor at least has the potential to protect against threats which substantially exceed its rating.

8mm Mauser vs AR500 Level III Steel Armor

By Andrew Betts

If you haven’t read our previous articles on AR500 armor, please go back and take a look at them. There is some ground work laid in those articles that will help to put this test in better perspective. This article analyzes our test results for Turkish 7.92x57mm vs. AR500Armor.com’s Level III plate. Let’s start with the test video:

Continue reading 8mm Mauser vs AR500 Level III Steel Armor

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.

Continue reading Is Level III Armor Worthless?

Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

Note:  I want to take a moment and thank Andrew Betts for this article.  I often have tried to explain this to people and I don’t think they believed me.  If you choose or have to wear body armor, be aware of its limits.  And as always, try not to get shot.  -Howard

Can a Tiny 45 gr .223 Varmint Bullet Defeat Level III Steel Armor?

By Andrew Betts


Level III AR500 armor is rated to stop 7.62x51mm NATO. It seems obvious that anything “less” than that would also be stopped. Is it possible that such a tiny bullet from a much less powerful cartridge could perforate armor designed and rated to stop the mighty 7.62x51mm?

As it turns out, yes. That tiny bullet can zip right through the steel armor, even when fired from relatively short barrels. How is this possible? It seems counterintuitive. It seems that it would require more power to get through steel armor but in fact, velocity is the primary factor that influences steel armor penetration. Sectional density, bullet construction, and mass all play a role, of course, but the roles they play are minimal compared to the role played by velocity. In the case of ¼” thick AR500 steel, 3,200 fps is about the cutoff point. Anything faster than that will usually pass through and anything slower will probably be stopped. The actual V50 rating is not published by the company, but it is apparent that it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,200 fps. The V50 rating is the velocity at which 50% of the projectiles of a given type pass through. To determine the V50 rating, a laboratory increases the velocity of the bullet being tested until it perforates the armor, then tests statistically relevant sample sizes at velocities near that point to determine the velocity at which 50% of bullets pass through.

It may be tempting to declare that this armor is garbage, but that is far from the case. This test simply demonstrates the design limitations of this type of armor. The plate shown in this test is available for $65 from http://www.ar500armor.com and will stop all handgun rounds and most common rifle rounds such as 7.62x39mm, 7.62x51mm, .300 Blackout, and even most .223 or 5.56x45mm ammo. While it is not specifically rated for M855, this plate will stop multiple hits of it. It will not stop M193, if it is fired from a long enough barrel and impacts at a close enough distance, but it will stop virtually any 60 grain and heavier .223 Rem projectile. Moreover, it will do so even after significant abuse. As we saw in the video, the plate stopped two rounds of 7.62x51mm, even after it had been perforated multiple times by the varmint ammo. Rather than focusing on the few threats that it will not stop, consider that you cannot purchase any lower threat level for the same cost. It stops far more than Level IIIA soft armor does and costs much less.

It is also worth noting that, while the high velocity varmint ammo does a good job of getting through the steel plate, it is not a good choice for defense. As seen in the test below, it penetrates far too shallowly to achieve reliable incapacitation.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the same company that produces this armor also produces Level III+ steel armor, which is designed to stop many of the threats that can defeat Level III armor. Be wary, though. Level III+ is not an actual NIJ rating, just an affirmation by the maker that the plate exceeds Level III by some degree in their assessment. Some manufacturers have had independent labs test their Level III+ plates and give them a special threat rating for specific rounds and others have not. Just because the plate is advertised as a Level III+ does not mean the same thing for various manufacturers. As with any other purchase you must do your own research. You should do your level best to find independent testing results from qualified labs and where that is not available, amateur testing as seen in the video above can help to inform your decision. As always, software > hardware. What is between your ears matters far more than what is on your chest. Train hard.

Trying Floor Tiles As Body Armor, Can It Really Work ?

By Andrew Betts

It could be the recent growth in interest in “prepper” shows or it could be the more general trend toward self-reliance and a DIY attitude, but for some reason making homemade body armor has become a popular thing to do. It may sound sketchy, like a homemade parachute or homemade aqualung, but one guy is taking a somewhat unique approach to the task.

Rather than simply slapping some tiles together to see what happens, The Chopping Block channel is taking a systematic approach to developing a dependable and repeatable design. The goal is to use experimentation and specific metrics to create a design that anyone can build, regardless of skill level. The other unique facet of his open source armor project is his insistence on leveraging the ingenuity of the community as a whole.

But why would someone want to build a homemade plate of dubious quality when quality professionally built body armor is readily available and affordable? While armor is available in most US states, it is not legal for civilians to purchase everywhere and it is always possible that future legislation could restrict the purchase of body armor. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to regulate body armor at the federal level over the last decade. It is also worth noting that while an entry level plate may not exactly require a second mortgage, the $65 price tag is more than the $10-$20 that some of these home built projects cost. Is your life worth more than $65? Of course it is, but when you add the cost of a carrier, it can start getting far more expensive to outfit a family of four with Level III plates, especially if you wanted to keep a set in more than one vehicle. The point is not that a homemade solution is better than a professionally made plate, but that the homemade solution is better than having nothing at all due to cost or legal hurdles. If you have the ability to purchase quality, professionally built armor, you should do so. It still might be handy to know how to build a field expedient rifle plate from a few dollars of home improvement supplies. Aside from any practical application, though, projects like these are fun and fascinating. The project has some interesting challenges to overcome and it will be exciting to see how they address them.

Man Shoots Soldiers’ Armor With .44 Magnum, What Happens Might Make You Cringe

By Andrew Betts

Our service men and women are issued body armor systems composed of a carrier, soft panels, and hard plates. One of the most common systems is the IOTV, or Improved Outer Tactical Vest. The military faces different threats than law enforcement does and therefore military body armor is not NIJ rated, but the soft panels are widely said to be roughly equivalent to NIJ level IIIA. That means that they should stand up to a .44 magnum 240 gr jacketed soft point at 1,400 fps with no more than 2.7” of back face deformation in a modeling clay backer.

We wanted to know if the armor would meet that standard so we tested a groin protector panel from an OTV. Be warned, this video might make you cross your legs.

It was interesting that the aramid layers are not stitched around the edges, as they are in many other armor panels. They had just a single stitch in the center. Nevertheless, the groin protector panel came very close to passing this IIIA standard. It stopped the bullet and the back face deformation was only slightly over the standard. Of course, .44 mag is not exactly a common threat on the battlefield.

Military armor is designed with other threats in mind, but it is encouraging to know that our soldiers are protected by excellent armor.

Does an M14 Really Turn Cover Into Concealment?

By Andrew Betts


If you spend enough time at an outdoor range, especially on the weekdays when the retirees are there in force, you are certain to hear someone opine that they prefer the M14 to the AR/M16/M4 because it “turns cover into concealment”. This is usually in conjunction with their opinion that the DoD made a terrible error in moving to the 5.56x45mm, rather than the much more manly 7.62x51mm. No one can claim that the 7.62mm NATO does not have more power. The cartridge contains significantly more powder and it launches a heavier bullet at only moderately lower velocity. Is that extra power actually useful for penetrating cover, though? Does it really “turn cover into concealment”?

To answer that, we took a look at a few real world objects of varying composition. The question is not whether the 7.62mm penetrates more deeply than the 5.56mm. It is widely known that 7.62mm will penetrate more deeply in some materials such as wood, while 5.56mm can often penetrate steel plate at close range better. M193 55 gr FMJ can even defeat Level III armor plates that are rated for multiple 7.62x51mm M80 147 gr FMJ (https://youtu.be/QrWtgyFQ8LU). The claim that the old guys are making is that the M14 can kill a man who is hiding behind an object that would stop a 5.56mm. In other words, does a small difference in penetration depth really translate to a difference in whether a specific object will act as cover or not? If the cartridges are compared in terms of go/no-go, will the M14 really “turn cover into concealment”?

For the first test, we will consider concrete barriers. There are a variety of concrete walls, block walls, and other concrete barriers in the urban landscape that a person might take cover behind. The concrete varies somewhat in the ratios of the ingredients but all are composed of cement, sand, and sometimes larger aggregate. Regardless of the recipe, concrete has high compressive strength and low tensile strength. That means that it works very well for applications such as load bearing walls, but not so well for a second story floor. It resists being crushed but when bent, it cracks easily. That also means that it works pretty well to stop a bullet, but it is destroyed in the process. We tested two kinds of concrete. The first is a concrete block common to privacy fences, with lots of small aggregate and air voids.

The second is a concrete paver. While not as sturdy as a poured concrete wall, the paver is made from mostly cement and sand, with little aggregate and no air voids.

In both tests, neither round was completely stopped by the concrete barrier. While the 7.62mm did look more impressive, the 5.56mm also made it through and neither cartridge seemed to retain much ability to wound on the other side of the wall. That is to say, both would likely cause a painful wound but neither were likely to penetrate deeply enough to have a high probability of causing incapacitation. A bad guy on the other side of either of those barriers would have an awfully bad day to be sure, but he would likely have the opportunity to make your own day much shorter. To sum up, it is a very close race with little practical difference between the two cartridges.

Of course, an 8” thick, poured concrete wall with rebar reinforcement is likely to stop both rounds cold, but it is also outside our ability to test. There are almost infinite variations on the thickness and composition of concrete structures and some will certainly stop both cartridges while others will not stop either cartridge, as seen in the above tests. It would take substantial resources to conclusively identify exactly what sort of barriers could be penetrated by which cartridge and at what distance. For our more general and limited testing, the conclusion is that both cartridges can penetrate some concrete barriers. There may very well be a special Goldilocks barrier that is just thick enough to stop the 5.56mm but not the 7.62mm. From what we can see of this testing, it seems likely that such a barrier would also bleed so much energy from the 7.62mm as to render it nearly harmless, though. Both cartridges failed to fully penetrate a single water jug in this test so if the thickness of the concrete were increased to that magical point where 5.56mm was stopped but 7.62mm passed through, the 7.62mm would be even less energetic than was seen in this testing, which means a very minor wound.

Next, we will consider one of the few components on a motor vehicle that actually has a good chance of stopping a bullet: a brake rotor. Other than the drive train, the brake rotors (or drums) are one of a very few places where there is actually enough thick metal to have a reasonably good chance of stopping a bullet. Frame rails will usually stop handgun rounds but are unlikely to stop any rifle round and it is common knowledge that the body does next to nothing to stop a bullet. Conversely, the engine and transmission should stop nearly any man portable weapon short of an AT-4. Will the brake rotor be just thick enough to stop one cartridge, but not the other?

In this case, several rounds of both the 5.56mm and the 7.62mm were stopped. It is true that the 7.62mm looked to be a bit closer to getting through, based on the slight cracks on the back side of the disc, but the bottom line is that a person hiding behind that object would not have acquired any extra face holes from either cartridge.

Wood is one of the materials which 7.62mm is said to penetrate much more deeply than 5.56mm so we compared the two cartridges’ ability to penetrate a modest sized log.

On the one hand, the 7.62mm penetrated almost twice as much wood as the 5.56mm. On the other hand, both were stopped and you would need to find a log that was more than 2 ½” thick but less than 4” thick to be able to stop the 5.56mm but not the 7.62mm. Aside from the obvious problem that few people would consider a 4” stick to be “cover”, the difference here underscores something we have long suspected. It is true that 7.62mm can penetrate more deeply, but the difference is unlikely to make any substantive real world difference. That is to say, there are very few objects that are just thick enough to stop a 5.56mm but not thick enough to stop a 7.62mm. Most objects are either thick enough to stop both or thin enough to stop neither.

We did find one material that was soft enough to underscore the difference in a very definitive way: water. This is a test using a 55 gallon plastic drum filled with water as the barrier.

Finally, here is an object that very clearly stopped one bullet but not the other. If your target is taking cover behind a 55 gallon plastic drum full of water, 7.62x51mm can punch through it, while 5.56mm will probably be stopped. In the high speed video, it seems that the 7.62mm was not really moving along that quickly after passing through the barrel, though. It is possible that it would not be capable of doing much wounding after getting through the barrel, but we did not test for that, so the nod has to go to the 7.62mm for getting through.

It is also worth noting here that projectile construction could make a significant difference in any of these tests. If the rounds were changed to bonded soft points, it is possible that both rounds would have made it through the water. If the 7.62mm were a Hornady 155 gr AMAX, it is unlikely it would get through the barrel. There are a wide variety of bullet weights and designs available for both cartridges and some of them will substantially change the performance on these objects. We chose M80 and M855 because they are the commonly issued FMJ ammunition for their respective rifles. We chose a 16” barreled AR15 because it is a good compromise length and we did not have the time to test 11.5”, 14.5”, and 20” barrels. We also did not test at greater distance, where the 7.62mm is likely to have a larger advantage because hauling the test materials 200 yards down range is difficult, bothersome, and disruptive to other shooters. There are a variety of conditions that were not tested and those conditions could give more of an edge to one or the other cartridge.

Overall, most of the tests showed very little difference between the two cartridges. In every test but the water barrel, either both penetrated the test object or both were stopped. Ultimately, it does not appear that there is any evidence to support the unilateral claim that 7.62x51mm “turns cover into concealment”. There may be some very specific circumstances where this is true, but they appear to be the exception, rather than the rule. To be sure, this concept deserves quite a lot more testing. It would be nice to see the differences at range and through a variety of other materials such as live wood and poured concrete. Some day we may continue testing. It seems that the M14 is likely to develop a real, substantive advantage as range
increases because the greater mass and higher ballistic coefficient can carry more energy further down range. On the other hand, this sort of testing only compares a single round of one cartridge to a single round of the other but 7.62mm weighs twice as much and that means a person is likely to have twice as much 5.56mm. In that light, one round of 5.56mm may be just about as good as one round of 7.62mm but two rounds of 5.56mm are far better than one round of 7.62 in nearly any circumstance. The real take-away here is that nothing in the world of firearms and projectiles is nearly as simple as “A is better than B” and it appears that the statement “The M14 turns cover into concealment,” is more often false than it is true.

Related  further reading of 762 penetration