The most common type of bulletproof vest you’ll see worn by bodyguards or patrol officers are the lower level types (Level IIA, II, IIIA), or what is collectively called soft body armour. Soft body armour is made from multiple layers of laminated or woven fibres, one of the most popular ingredients being aramid fibre. Soft body armour is beneficial because it can be concealed under clothing and works well in repelling handguns and most shotgun ammunition. It doesn’t work too well on ammunition fired from a rifle, however.
The Strongest Form of Protection
To protect yourself from rifle gunfire, you must be equipped with armour that has either a Level III or IV rating. This type of armour is collectively known as hard body armour. What makes hard body armour hard is characteristically a ballistic plate worn in conjunction with a plate carrier (some soft body armour applications have compartments to apply plates.) Aramid fibre is not normally the main ingredient of hard armour. Hard armour is usually constructed from materials such as ballistic steel, ceramic, or polyethene composites. The most common ballistic plate in use is probably the ceramic composite form.
There is no such soft armour application available that can stop gunfire from a rifle.
The ballistic plate has always played a major role in the protective body armour issued to active military troops and tactical police. Even though we automatically think of law enforcers and the military when we think of such armour, the ballistic plate is also now used in children’s backpacks. The ballistic plate comes in all shapes and sizes, the most common shapes being a rectangular or an irregular hexagon pattern. Most ballistic plate add-ons will be about the size of a notebook, though could be much larger in some instances. Some versions of the ballistic plates come with a solid base that could be stood upright on, known as the stand-alone ballistic plate.
The ballistic plate is used for the sole purpose of stopping powerful rifle projectiles.
Military Plate Usage
One of the first and probably one of the best-known ballistic plate applications is probably the Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI), which was introduced in the late 1990s and was mass-produced until the mid-2000s (approx. 2-5 million SAPI plates were issued to U.S troops; armour manufactures produced about 25,000 sets per month.) The SAPI plate was worn in conjunction with the Interceptor Body Armour (IBA) system. These specialised plates were produced from materials such as boron carbide or silicon carbide ceramic material with a sturdy backing material (i.e. Spectra.) The SAPI plates were contained in the Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) of the IBA and were capable of stopping the 7.62mm rifle projectile at an approximate muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second. The 7.62mm calibre has been a constant fixture in the main batter rifle (MBR).
In an attempt to better secure the troops, the ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert) began to be produced in 2005. The ESAPI became a component of the Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV), which contained four ballistic plate inserts and much of the same style body armour system components. Though slightly heavier than the previous model, the new and improved design has proved to be more durable than its predecessor. Even though the ESAPI is still made of the same expensive materials (specialised ceramic composites), they are also produced in a cheaper material called Alumina Oxide (AO). While this material is just as durable as the ceramic composites, the catch is that it’s a little heavier. The AO option is popular among civilian body armour owners.