Ballistic plates are often mentioned together with body armor and armored vests. It is a ballistic plate that actually takes the energy of the bullet and allows a body armor wearer to survive. And while body armor was initially designed for military purposes, today more and more situations occur that justify usage of body armor and ballistic plates by civilians too. While professional law enforcement officers know the ins and outs of body armor selection principles very well, we, ordinary persons often do not.
This article aims to fill the gap in your knowledge about ballistic plates, their types and principles of selection.
What are ballistic plates
A ballistic plate is a replaceable piece of bullet-resistant material that can be inserted into a body armor vest. They come in different cuts, sizes, and materials. Ballistic plates are rated by their stopping power and are certified against certain types of threats. Currently, there are several levels of protection according to National Institute of Justice: Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III, and Level IV, ordered from the least protected plates to ones that offer maximum protection.
Body armor vs. ballistic plate. What’s the difference?
Sometimes you may hear these terms used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. Body armor is any device or garment that is designed to keep your body from damages caused by firearms. Body armor includes vests, helmets, shields, and other armor types. Speaking of armored vests, they usually allow inserting ballistic plates. So, ballistic plates are a part of body armor vest.
Technically, a ballistic plate is nothing more than a piece made of bullet resistant material.
Ballistic plate materials
Years ago there was only one material hard enough to withstand bullet hits – metal. Today, we have more. These new ballistic plate materials are more lightweight, have better stopping power and are easier to use and to maintain. Needless to say, each material has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Steel ballistic plates provide great protection and can stop even serious high velocity rounds. Steel plates are affordable and simple. They require little maintenance and are practically eternal (unless shot, of course). On the minus side is weight and rigidness of the plate, which means reduced mobility.
Ceramic armor is a relatively new player in the personal protection industry. Ceramic plates are harder than steel, but are fragile. Instead of absorbing the energy of the bullet and redistributing it, the ceramic ballistic plate breaks and cracks locally, therefore limiting the energy of the hit to this local damage. Ceramic armors can efficiently stop rifle bullets, so most NIJ Level IV armors use ceramic plates or composite plates with a ceramic component. A disadvantage of ceramic ballistic plate is weight, cost and fragility. They absolutely must not be dropped or thrown, ever.
The fragility of the ceramic plate also means that it can take only a limited amount of rounds before its protection drops below safe levels. Hence, ceramic ballistic plates are not a typical choice to protect yourself unless you are a law enforcement officer or a police officer.
Polyethylene ballistic plates are made of synthetic extra tear-resistant ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene. Bullets hitting a plate literally get bogged down in fibers of UHMWPE, and stop before they can do any damage to the wearer of the armor. Polyethylene armor plates are lightweight and flexible, so they do no hinder your mobility. They also can float on the water. However, the cost of polyethylene ballistic plates is rather high, and they also can be bulky if we are talking about some serious protection – Level III or higher.
On the other hand, polyethylene armor plates are great for civilian protection. You can insert such plates to a backpack, a vest, a suitcase and so on. Due to low weight, it remains practical while providing all the benefits of the real body armor.
Of course, there are other materials, but these are the basic ones.
Types of ballistic plate cuts
A ballistic plate can be cut differently to better fit specific requirements of an armor wearer. Some cuts deliver better coverage thanks to larger area, others promote better mobility. Here are some typical plate cuts:
- Full cut. The rectangular or square shape of the plate covers more areas of the body than any other cut. And yes, you have guessed it right: such shape is not very convenient if you plan to move around a lot or change position of your body often.
- Shooter’s cut. This shape offers an optimum balance between protected areas and mobility. As the name suggests, it is suitable for shooters who need to fire from various stances. Shooter’s cut plates also allow leave your shoulders open making carrying weapons and ammunition easier.
- Swimmer’s cut. Maximum dynamics, less coverage. This plate cut is suitable for agile shooters as it offers maximum space for shoulder movement.
- SAPI cut. This is a military standard as the name says. The plate cut is designed for rather long-term military action and is the best for it.
Selecting the right cut is extremely important. You should consider your typical activity and select the ballistic plate cut properly based on your needs for coverage and mobility.
How to fit the ballistic plate in the armor
First of all, make sure to measure your body and select the proper size of the ballistic plates. A too small plate leaves too much of your body unprotected, while a too large plate may affect your movements and performance.
The plate must be inserted to the armor with its strike side out. This side usually has a corresponding label.
You also should fit the armor itself. Measuring yourself correctly is important.
- Start with measuring the width of your chest from nipple to nipple. This will be the width of the ballistic plate.
- Then, tape measure the height starting from 3 inches above the belly button up to the collar bone. This will be the height of the plate.
Choose the size that matches your measurements the best.
Standard ballistic plate sizes are:
- 8 x 10 in
- 10 x 12 in
- 11 x 14 in
If your size is in between two standard sizes, choose the one that is closer to your measurements.
Surely, selecting the best ballistic plate is a serious affair. Even if you do not plan to take part in law enforcement operations, your life and well-being still may depend on this piece of bullet-resistant material. Choosing wisely is strongly recommended. Do not trust empty marketing promises and make sure to ask questions to BattleSteel consultants if you are not sure what kind of ballistic plate or size you need.