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Body Armor Protection Levels Simplified

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You don’t have to be a ballistics expert to have a good understanding of body armor protection levels and the rounds they defeat. The key is to understand why & how each protection level is classified. In this article we’re going to simplify the protection levels so that anyone can quickly determine the right body armor for their situation based on common ammunition rounds. Note that there are hundreds of different ammo cartridges on the market so we’re not going to get into the exotic rounds that you’re not likely to ever encounter. We’re going to primarily focus on ammo cartridges in this article, if you’d like more information on NIJ protection level standards then please see this article.

Protection Levels

Handgun Protection – Level IIIA

Quick rule of thumb, level IIIA protection is all about protection against handgun rounds. Under NIJ 0101.06 requirements, level IIIA armor is tested against .357 SIG and .44 MAG. However, level IIIA body armor is capable of stopping most handgun rounds on the market. This applies to both soft armor such as our IIIA Flex Fused Core™ panels and IIIA hard armor such as our Armis Quad Curve plates. Whether the armor is hard or soft, the key to remember is that level IIIA indicates handgun protection. It’s important to note that handguns are the predominate firearm used in murders based on FBI crime stats. Level IIIA body armor is easy to conceal and just a fraction of the weight of rifle rated body armor. Better yet, our level IIIA soft body armor panels are very affordable which makes them a realistic option for many concerned citizens.

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Basic Rifle Protection – Level III

Level III body armor is where the classification gets much more specific. Level III is capable of defeating handgun rounds, but is specifically designed to stop larger caliber rifle rounds such as 7.62x51 (M80 BALL also known commonly as .308). Can level III body armor stop rounds from an AR15 rifle? The answer depends on the round. Our Spartan™ Omega™ AR500 and Elaphros Lightweight level III plates have both been tested against M193 rounds (commonly referred to as .223 or 5.56). However it’s important to note that not all AR15 rounds are the same. The M193 is a “softer” round meaning that it’s more likely to fragment when it hits makes contact. This makes it easier to stop a M193 round with body armor than a round such as M855 which is designed to penetrate hard materials.

Advanced Rifle Protection - Level III+

Level III+ is a special designation that the body armor industry created in order to fill a gap between level III body armor and level IV body armor. As we mentioned previously, M855 is a “penetrator” round designed to penetrate hard surfaces. This particular round is commonly referred to as a “green tip” based on the green painted tip of the bullet. The M855 round has an inner steel core that gives this bullet its penetration capabilities. It’s important to note that M855 rounds are NOT the same as armor piercing rounds. While they are designed to penetrate hard materials, they don’t have the same penetration power as armor piercing rounds.

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Armor Piercing Rifle Protection – Level IV

While it’s not the most common threat, armor piercing bullets are a reality. Level IV body armor is designed to stop .30-06 M2AP armor piercing rounds. This is a large caliber round with plenty of powder behind it. Level IV body armor is typically sought after by people more likely to encounter extreme danger such as Law Enforcement, Military or Security Contractors. While level IV body armor is only required to defeat one armor piercing round by NIJ 0101.06 standards, our level IV body armor is capable of defeating multiple rounds.

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Whether you’re looking for concealable body armor or a full tactical setup, having a good understanding of the body armor protection levels is an important first step. Once you understand the level of protection that each level affords, it becomes much easier to identify the best body armor for your situation. Remember these basic rules of body armor protection levels:

  • Level IIIA protects against handguns
  • Level III protects against most rifle rounds
  • Level III+ provides additional protection against rifle rounds, M855 in particular
  • Level IV is designed to stop armor piercing rounds

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