Tag Archives: Body Armor

Highcom 4SAS7: a Seriously Tough Ceramic Plate at a Great Price

For a long time “ceramic” meant “expensive” when it comes to body armor. Either pay at least $500 at a minimum for a ceramic level IV plate or settle for a less expensive and less effective steel plate. As more regular folks buy armor for just in case, market pressure has forced manufacturers to adapt. Some manufacturers are producing tougher, “level III+” steel plates that can stop some of the high velocity .223/5.56mm threats that regular level III steel plates cannot. At the same time, ceramic plates have also become more affordable.  Highcom Security actually offers a level IV ceramic plate at a price lower than some steel plates. It is available in a variety of sizes, curve options, and cuts, but in the 10″ x 12″ shooter’s cut, single curve style that is so popular, the price is $159.

At that price, one might reasonably suspect how effective the plate is. As the sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein was fond of saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” It is quite reasonable to be suspicious of the quality at such an attractive price, but the plate has far exceeded any reasonable expectations.

Everything done in the test above shatters expectations, if you’ll pardon the pun. The hammer impact far exceeds anything you could reasonably expect to encounter in field use and the .358 Win is also something the plate was not designed to stop. Bear in mind that when this test was conducted, the plate had already stopped a 405 gr .450 Marlin at almost 2,000 fps. The plate then went on to stop a round of 7.62x51mm M61 AP.

Again, it is important to bear in mind that the plate had already sustained some ridiculous abuse before stopping the armor piercing round.

As tough as the plate is, it is also a little heavier than other plates with the same NIJ rating, but at 7.2 lbs for the 10″ x 12″ shooter’s cut, the difference is not huge and still lighter than steel plates of similar dimensions, while providing a great deal more protection than steel plates.

As always, the burden is upon you to do comprehensive research and determine your own priorities before purchasing any personal protective equipment. It is likewise important to stress that training matters a great deal more than equipment. No amount of gear, no matter how cool can make up for poor training. The more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in a fight.

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M855A1 EPR: The Armor Piercing Round That Wasn’t

The Army does not actually consider M855A1 to be armor piercing ammunition, but it is capable of some really impressive penetration. Standard M855 is stopped easily by ¼” AR500 level III body armor, but M855A1 can penetrate even level III+ steel armor.

Bear in mind that the plate in that test was able to stop 5.56mm M193 and 50 gr TSX, .450 Marlin 405 gr JSP, and even a round of 7.62x51mm M61 AP. This plate is seriously tough.

Let that sink in a bit: a standard 5.56mm “ball” round was able to penetrate a target that 7.62x51mm armor piercing ammunition could not get through. Of course the old farts will complain about how their beloved “thuty cal” will carry more energy down range and that is absolutely correct. 7.62x51mm will likely be better at getting through thicker, heavier obstacles like trees and possibly better at multiple layers of light barrier like car bodies. It will definitely be better at chewing up concrete barriers with multiple rounds. Still, at close range, in this narrow use case, a 5.56mm “ball” cartridge outperformed 7.62x51mm AP and that is really saying something. How far away does M855A1 EPR keep that performance edge though?

It is not particularly surprising that it loses some steam and is unable to penetrate at 50 meters, given the light weight of the projectile, but the fact that it can still get through the plate at 25 meters is notable in its own right. There is some limit to the capability of this new round, but it is nevertheless impressive. It is not simply some icepick penetrator, either.

Even when fired from a short barrel, M855A1 shows immediate upset and dramatic tissue disruption. In comparison, M855 shows a much longer “neck,” about four to five inches, actually. The “neck” is the portion of tissue that is relatively undamaged by a projectile’s passing before the bullet begins to yaw, fragment, or expand.

Even when fired from a 16” barrel, the M855 showed a longer neck and less tissue disruption than the M855A1 did from an 11.5” barrel. In other words, the M855A1 is more terminally effective at a lower velocity than M855. There is every reason to believe that it should continue to demonstrate excellent down range performance too, based on the light, three part construction of the bullet. It is refreshing to finally see an effective loading fielded for our soldiers’ 5.56mm rifles. For decades, civilians have enjoyed high performance loads that take full advantage of the 5.56mm cartridge’s potential but our service men and women have made do with an obsolete answer to a question no one cared to ask. The M855 was not particularly good at anything. It was not terrible, of course, but it was far from ideal. At long last, it looks as though the Army has a load that is actually better at penetrating cover than M855 but also produces better tissue damage.

Is Ceramic Armor Really “Better” Than Steel?

Some things really are better. Cold beer is better than warm beer. Empire Strikes Back is better than Return of the Jedi. But in most cases, one thing is not really better than another thing, just different. As much as it pains me to admit, PCs are not better than Macs, just different. Depending on your priorities, one or the other may be a better fit. This concept applies to body armor as well. There is a perception that level IIIA soft armor is “better” than level IIA because it is rated for higher energy threats. Level IIIA armor also tends to be heavier, stiffer, hotter, and generally less comfortable than level IIA. Anyone who has worn armor for a living knows that comfort isn’t nearly as superficial as it might sound to someone who has not worn armor for long periods of time. There are a number of other factors that should be considered when selecting armor such as weight, thickness, threat rating, and of course, price. There are some other factors that may be overlooked, though.

One factor is the fact that different types of body armor might perform differently with specific threats, even if they have the same threat rating. By way of example, this level III steel plate was able to stop a round of M61 7.62x51mm AP.

When shot with the same ammunition from the same barrel length, a ceramic level III plate was perforated, though.

How can this be? Every internet operator worth his keyboard will tell you straight up that ceramic armor is “better” than steel, so how is it that the steel can stop a round that gets through the ceramic? The fact is that the real world is not a video game. Ceramic armor is not a +10 damage resistance over steel armor. Different armor types perform differently across a spectrum of velocities, bullet weights, and types of projectile construction. The materials used in each plate work differently to stop bullets. That does not mean that the steel plate is superior, either, though. The same plates had opposite performance when tested against the Army’s new M855A1 62 gr EPR.

In this case, the ceramic plate stopped the round but the steel plate was perforated.

Both plates carry the NIJ level III rating. Shouldn’t that mean that they will stop the same ammunition? In a way, that is precisely what that means, but we have to put a very fine point on that statement. It means that they will both protect the wearer from 7.62x51mm M80 at 2,780 fps by preventing the round from reaching the wearer but without deforming more that 1.7″. This last bit is often overlooked as well. Soft body armor and composite rifle plates deform when struck by a projectile. Often, that deformation is substantial, as seen in the video below:

The NIJ specifies that the degree of back face deformation should be measured by measuring the depression left in a clay block placed behind the test article. In this informal test, the clay used is not exactly the same type and consistency of the clay specified by the NIJ, but it gives a general picture of the difference between the back face signature produced by these two plates when struck with the same projectile.

Although they are the same threat level and were struck with exactly the same ammunition, the degree of back face deformation on the ceramic composite plate was profound, while the steel plate showed virtually zero deformation.

Please understand that this series of tests should not be taken to indicate that steel is “better,” either, just that steel and ceramic work differently. The two plates shown here vary substantially in price, thickness, and weight as well as the factors discussed in this article. They perform differently, but one is not necessarily “better” than the other. Both plates will still protect the wearer against the vast majority of small arms munitions, though.

As always, it is your responsibility to do extensive research before purchasing any personal protective equipment. Also remember that training is far more important than equipment. There is no amount of gear that can make up for a training deficiency.

Can Milk Jugs Stop a Bullet?

An empty milk jug seems like a pretty flimsy thing, but when you cut several milk jugs into pieces and melt them into an homogeneous block, it starts to look a little more substantial. Still, can plastic stop a bullet? High density polyethylene, or HDPE, is used in a variety of products because it is strong, light, and cheap. Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE is used in some rifle plates because it is tough and light. While the two are not the same, they are chemically similar and although HDPE is not as tough as UHMWPE, it is tougher than you might expect.

This seems silly and it is, but there is a more serious purpose to this test. Every few years, some dullard statist politician gets it in his or her tiny head to place restrictions on body armor because banning the things for the children has worked so well in the past. There already exist some jurisdictions where body armor is regulated. Some countries do not allow private citizens to own body armor at all. The purpose of the Open Source Armor Project is to establish a standard for homemade body armor that is effective, cheap, easy to make, and constructed of easily sourced materials. It is not intended to be an alternative to proper body armor, but rather an option for those who may not have access to “real” armor as well as a counterpoint to any arguments in favor of banning personal body armor. The goal of this test was as a proof of concept. Further testing will explore the stand alone capability of a 1 1/4″ thick slab like this as well as its usefulness as a backing material for floor tiles. In previous testing, we have established that porcelain floor tiles are more than up to the task of stopping intermediate rifle cartridges when backed by a tough material.

The questions that remain to be answered are:

  • How effective can the HDPE slab be on its own?
  • What is the optimum thickness?
  • How many tiles is optimum to achieve a favorable balance of weight and protection?
  • What adhesives are both inexpensive and effective?
  • What material works best to contain fragments?

Once these questions are answered, we can establish a standard configuration or set of configurations that can then be independently tested. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please contact The Chopping Block on YouTube.

Correct position of hard armor plates

I see a lot of pictures on forums of guys wearing their plate carriers with armor in them in ways that barely do them any good all the time. Usually you see the plates setting too low in the front and the back.  As can be seen in this picture you do not really need a huge plate to cover every inch of  your body, but you do need it to cover the most important inside red parts.

Here are a couple of pictures I hope will help people make sure they do not wear their armor wrong and some day have a round slip through or over a plate and cause sever leaking.

 

These pictures came from a poster on http://www.ar15.com

TAG Banshee PC

If you are any thing like me, you have likely  went through more then one PC looking for the “perfect set up” for everyday use. After going through a CIRAS and a few other PCs, I kept noticing the same problem for me. Too big, kinda heavy and more MOLLE space then I really needed which made me prone to add too much to it. After looking around for a few months I ran across PC that intrigued me, the TAG Banshee. I ordered one up and after a few days, I had one in my sweaty little paws.

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to run a PC as slick as I could be still have some ammo on it so I could at least toss it on and have mags ready to go even without a sidearm.  And to add to that, I wanted it to set up high enough I could wear a war belt with a side arm not in a drop leg and still be comfy. And, to be able to throw the PC on over a regular belt with EDC on and still be fine an able to give me full range of movement.

As you can see Banshee is nice and compact enough to fill this roll for me. I stand at 5 foot 8 inches tall and weigh about 150 pounds so this PC is perfect for my intended use.  The front has room for a triple mag pouch which can hold 3 to 6 mags. The Banshee also comes with a cummerbund that is removable  and covered in MOLLE webbing. They can be opened up via velcro to add soft armor panels for side protection or side SAPI plates and soft armor.

Side soft armor

soft panel
soft panel

Side panels can be removed easily  and side side buckles used instead like most other PCs made much the same way. This can come in handy if you really want to run slick and have no use for the sides. In some cases they would serve no real purpose if empty other then to make you hotter and get in the way of a pistol drawstroke depending on how you may have gear set up.

The Banshee will fit a pretty wide range of plates with plenty of room left over for soft backers. Users with XL size plates may find it snug and they made not fit,  I have no XL plates on hand to test this out myself, but I have heard that some people had trouble.  I use small size ESAPIs myself and they fit almost perfectly with room left over for backers.

ESAPI over PC
ESAPI over Banshee

The quality and construction of the Banshee is just top notch, After using it all fall in a variety of weather ranges and clothing layers, it has worn pretty nice. It seems to barely be noticeable even when fully loaded down and never have I felt over heated or restricted in movement even with larger coats on under it. The stitching is strong and the webbing has stayed stitched on after hours of my fiddling with it trying to decide what I want, and where I want it.  I also noticed no wear after  several days of the extended latch of my BCM gunfighter charging handle rubbing on the same spot over and over.  It washed off pretty easy as well, even covered in gravel dust held in place with slip2000 weapons lube from my weapon.  The shoulder pads are easily adjusted and are also comfy though some guys will buy shoulder pads anyway.

The front top four webbing rows are covered in velcro front and back  for name tags, patchs or any thing else you feel needs sticking to you. I think it was a pretty nice touch even some may not like the fact its a solid color instead of camo for those who order one in multicam or ATACs etc. One thing to think about is how bad it may wear out in the future and become useless. If you worry about that kind of thing I have seen pics on the web of guys removing the velcro.

The front also comes with the built in pouch that is pretty common, you can stick a knife, map, or maybe even a small handgun inside.But I found it a PITA  to get open.  But, it hurts nothing and could be pretty handy if needed.

The Tag Banshee is the best solution I have found for my uses. I highly recommend one for anyone. the catch is though if you are a big fellow, this may not be for you. Im only 5 foot 7 inches and 150 so this fits me perfect. So keep this in mind if you are a lot bigger then me or at least search for pics on the web of other guys wearing one  that may be bigger then me to get a better idea oh how it could fit you.  One warning though, the banshee has been popular of late and a lot of people have been waiting on one they ordered since before November of 2011. So it may be a long wait until those back orders are filled. But hey, that is a pretty good sign its good stuff, otherwise no one would want them. The best part is they can usually be had for under 150 bucks!