Saturday, August 15, 2020

Ballistic Armor: Terminology

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
This article was written with information provided by Seth Schuehartt in his original submission, which was cut for content and for brevity. 

Now that you've decided upon which material and level of protection best suits your needs, it's time to go shopping. As I have limited experience with ballistic armor (other than to say that I own these Level IV ceramic plates which are off-brand Hesco) I am reluctant to make any recommendations or discommendations by name. However, I can help you narrow your search by explaining many terms used to describe armor plates. When looking at armor descriptions, the format is usually as follows:
  1. Protection Level
  2. Dimensions
  3. Protection Type
  4. Material
  5. Geometry
  6. Cut

Most armor plates are 10" x 12", although 11" x 14" is frequently available. Side plates (see below) are typically 6" x 6". 

Protection Types

This means that the plate armor is sufficient by itself to protect you (although a trauma pad is highly recommended). Most plates are standalone.

This acronym means "In Conjunction With" and is seen most often in duty armor for police officers who usually don't need more than Level IIIa soft armor. Adding an ICW plate over their IIIa armor (usually in an external plate carrier) gives them Level III protection.

Side Plate
These are Level III or IV plates which attach to the cummerbund (see below) and protect your sides from your armpit to the bottom of your ribcage.

Trauma Plate
A non-ballistic hard plate worn in a dedicated pocket underneath soft armor to protect the sternum from blunt trauma.

Cheater Plate
A small ballistic plate worn as additional armor to get additional protection. Speed Plates are a type of ICW cheater plate which covers the heart and upper lungs.

Note that this applies only to plate (hard) armor, not soft armor.

Flat Plate
This armor is a flat piece of metal, ceramic or polymer. Cheapest to buy because they are the easiest to make, but they are also awkward and uncomfortable to wear due to the fact that our bodies are curved.

Single Curve
This plate curves from left to right, making it mold more readily to your torso. Less awkward but still rather uncomfortable, especially if you have a large belly or any kind of breasts.

This armor has multiple curves to better fit the armor to the wearer’s body. This is the most comfortable type of armor, but also the most expensive.


Again, the least expensive and most uncomfortable style. The upper corners of this plate make it difficult to shoulder long guns and to move your arms inward past 90°.

Shooter’s Cut
These plates have the upper corners cut off, creating an extended hexagonal shape which makes shooting while wearing them much more comfortable. Generally recommended for most people.

Swimmer’s Cut
This is similar to a Shooter’s Cut, but has even steeper cuts at the top corners and also has the bottom corners cut off. It allows for greater flexibility but also provides less coverage. This cut is most useful for those who need more mobility, have narrower shoulders, or have a particularly slender build.

Other Terms

Backface Deformation
If a large enough or fast enough bullet strikes a plate, the force of impact is sufficient to cause a bulge (deformation) on the side of the plate closest to your body (the back face of the plate, aka backface). Depending on how dramatic the backface deformation is, it could cause additional injury to the wearer. Trauma pads are recommended to protect against backface deformation injuries.

The straps that goes from the back, around the sides, and under the front of the plate carrier. This provides for a more secure and comfortable fit, albeit at the cost of being much slower to put on than a strap-and-clip system. You must have a cummerbund if you want side plates. 

The military term for Level III plates. It stands for Small Arms Protective Inserts.

The E stands for Enhanced. These are Level IV military plates.

An experimental armor created in 2008, designed to protect against eXtreme threats. About 120,000 were made, but the threat they were designed to protect against never materialized. The FBI uses these, and probably other government agencies as well, but to my knowledge they are not commercially available.

Next Week:  Plate Carriers

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