Ceramic Body Armor Multi-Hit Ratings and Real Life
By: Rob Orgel, Emergency Response Tactical
When it comes to ceramic body armor, multi-hit ratings are commonly thought to be the total punishment a plate can withstand round after round, even if they're stacked on top of each other. However, a multi-hit rating is based on how many rounds a body armor plate can withstand based on points of impact preassigned by the manufacturer during the testing process. There is no NIJ standard for the exact placement of multiple rounds during testing of level III and level IV body armor, because those plates are only required to stop one round in order to past the test. Thus, it's important to understand that "multi-hit" is an industry term and subject to industry whims. But how does this all pertain to real-world engagements? And does it matter to me?
Meeting standards and understanding quality control are extremely important when we're dealing with life-and-death situations. This means that unlike your toothpaste that claims to remove all of your coffee stains, body armor that claims to have a certain level of protection must be held accountable.
If ceramic body armor fails to stop a round it’s rated for and causes death, it comes with severe consequences in terms of legality and liabilities. Therefore, reputable body armor manufacturers overbuild their multi-hit body armor plates. Should the wear of those plates be the recipient of rounds, the overbuilt plates should provide the best possible outcome in terms of survivability.
Understanding Recoil Management and Its Impact on Multi-Hit Rating
However, whether or not the multi-hit rating is necessary depends on one's knowledge and experience. If you anticipate your typical engagements to take place at a distance and you have experience in recoil management, then the multi-hit rating might not be as important to you. In this case, even if a ceramic body armor plate is not multi-hit rated, it doesn't mean it can't take multiple hits. It only refers to hits in very close proximity to each other, and of a particular caliber.
For example, a Hercules level IV ceramic plate is stated to be capable of stopping 1 round of .30-06 M2AP. It is very unlikely that you would ever encounter a threat such as this in real life. However, handgun rounds (such as 9MM) and rifle rounds 5.56 and 7.62 rounds are the most common and therefore organic to most modern engagements. A plate such as the Hercules could handle numerous rounds of these more common cartridges, I’ve put this to the test myself. When you consider a multi-hit plate such as the Hercules X level IV, there is even more capability to defeat multiple high velocity rifle rounds.
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Experience also plays a significant role. As someone who has worked with a lot of trained individuals, I can tell you that their ability to place two rounds on top of each other in a fast-paced combat environment is relatively unlikely. In addition, the greater the distance, the less likely the bullets are to stack.
To test this, observe the majority of shooters at your local shooting range and watch them fire two rounds in rapid succession. You will often find that one round is low left or low right, while the other one is high left or higher right. This has to do with people's lack of understanding of recoil management.
Once we truly understand how to properly mitigate recoil, stacking bullets on top of each other becomes more common, but still requires a significant amount of high-quality training. Thus, the likelihood of encountering a shooter capable of stacking bullets on top of each other on your body armor, at distance and while moving, is highly unlikely.
Moreover, considering the distance aspect, a lot of the time when we think of multi-hit, we think of full-auto. Being able to control full-auto effectively is relatively uncommon. The further the engagement, the greater the spread pattern, which in machine gun talk is referred to as a "cone of fire".
As we open up with an M240 belt-fed machine gun in 7.62mm, the beating zone or impact area is often the size of a vehicle at 200 or 300 yards. If I am up against that rate of fire, there's a strong likelihood that it will impact what happens on the outside of my plate carrier as well.
Applying this to an individual weapon system, like a carbine, whether it is full-auto or not, it is increasingly less likely that the shooter will hit me more than once, and if so, highly unlikely the two bullets will stack on top of each other. This brings me back to my favorite concept of "less is more". Faced with the choice, I'd rather save weight and move fast than have "multi-hit rated" plates. If I can have the best of both worlds i.e. low weight and multi-hit rating, then that would be my choice. Again, the most common threats organic to my area of operations is also factored into this decision ( 9MM, 5.56 and 7.62x51).
In conclusion, the importance of multi-hit rating depends on various factors, including the distance of engagements, the shooter's experience, likely weapon of choice and their ability to manage recoil. While it is necessary for some, it may not be as important for others. Ultimately, the decision to purchase multi-hit rated plates should be based on individual needs and circumstances.
About the Author:
Rob joined the USMC in 2004 with a military occupational specialty of 0311 (Infantry Rifleman). Assigned to 3rd Bn 1st Marines, Rob participated in a deployment to Iraq (OIF-3) as a point man followed by an assignment as Team Leader for the 13th MEU Special Operations Capable to Iraq (OIF-6). In 2007, he joined 1st Marine Regiment and reenlisted to deploy to Afghanistan. InJanuary 2010, Rob was promoted to the rank of Sergeant & continued to serve 1st Marine Regiment for a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. On return from Afghanistan, Rob was assigned to School Of Infantry West to work as a Combat Instructor (CI) for the USMC where he trained thousands of Marines to gain the skills necessary to survive. Rob exited the USMC in 2014 & was immediately picked up by Securing our Country (SOC). As a private military contractor, Rob was responsible for training the specialty teams of operators at the American Embassy in Iraq. Shortly after leaving Contract in 2018, Rob became the Chief Instructor of GPS Defense Sniper School. Rob now gives 100% of his attention to Emergency Response Tactical training all levels over 320 days a year as his passion & full-time job.
You can read his full bio here.