Who uses bulletproof vests?
The reasons for choosing to purchase and own a bulletproof vest are varied and widespread, but they all typically boil down to the decision to protect oneself. After all, body armor is just that, armor. It is an insurance policy that you wear over your vital organs to save your life from an otherwise lethal event. The vast majority of people will go their entire life without ever getting shot. Yet, just like other catastrophic events, it does happen, and it is better to be prepared beforehand rather than after.
There is the small but growing number of people, particularly in the United States, that are choosing to be prepared for the worst. Prepping is an increasingly popular cultural phenomenon and while it may seem silly to some, it never hurts to be over prepared should anything bad happen. From natural disasters to collapses of rule of law and governmental turmoil, danger does exist, especially in the hypothetical future where anything might happen. While many focus almost blindly on offensive weaponry for self-defense with the proliferation of concealed carry programs and home defense planning, almost no consideration is typically placed in actual defensive measures. The best laid bug out plan or prepping strategy can easily be scrapped by a single stray round when not wearing armor capable of defeating it. With the variety and customizability of ballistic armor today, and the ever-falling price tag, there remains few excuses to refuse to integrate it into a self-defense strategy. Steel rifle rated bulletproof vests often seem to be overkill for the average civilian, but these too have their specific advantages that make them perfect for certain applications. Compared to Kevlar soft vests, AR500 steel plates do not degrade with light and heat, and thus have a theoretically infinite shelf life so long as they do not rust. This allows them to be purchased once and stored until they are needed.
The most surprising purchasers of high-grade rifle rated NIJ Level III+ AR500 plates are actually those already issued body armor. Law enforcement and first responders looking to upgrade from their standard issue soft vests typically move up to AR500 steel rifle plates as opposed to the flimsy Kevlar vests they are issued. Contrary to popular belief, the soft Kevlar vests issued to police units across the country and the world are extremely vulnerable to rifle cartridges, offering little to no resistance against anything not fired out of pistol. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism and police targeted violence, the likelihood of an officer being faced with a rifle threat is greater than it has ever been and many feel justifiably under protected by their standard issue vests.
Bulletproof vests on their own are simply pieces of gear designed to protect their user from harm. They are protective in the same way that a motorcycle helmet protects its wearer from potential harm. No one has ever been killed or injured from an attack from a Kevlar vest as far as the records show. Bulletproof Vests often receive negative press because they are found in stashes of weapons recovered by the police when they raid drug cartels and other nefarious organizations. Bulletproof vests as a result have acquired a stigma of being owned by those looking or expecting to be in conflict with the authorities, yet this is not their only role. Many own bulletproof vests and other ballistic armor to protect themselves in everyday situations and have their critical place in any good home-defense or prepping strategy.
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What is AR500 steel?
AR500 steel is the industry designation given to Abrasion Resistant steel that has a Brinell hardness rating of 500. The “AR” in AR500 steel stands for “Abrasion Resistant”. While this may seem rather odd, using abrasion resistant steel for ballistic purposes like armor and steel targets actually makes perfect sense. The same abrasive forces that would deteriorate softer steel in manufacturing and mining applications is roughly equivalent to the ballistic forces introduced by a bullet. While these two forces may not seem to be remotely comparable, the solution to both is hardening the steel. The harder the steel, the less it will deform under a specified force, in this case a bullet. The harder the steel, the faster and heavier rounds it is able to stop effectively. This trend continues in steel until around the 500 level on the Brinell scale, while it would seem reasonable to assume that AR600 or 700 would be capable of stopping even tougher rounds, field-testing has shown that past 500, the steel becomes very brittle. While these extremely hard steels may not deform when faced with large magnum class rifle rounds, they wind up shattering catastrophically, usually still letting the projectile through in the process. AR500 is the preferred middle ground between hardness and flexibility for ballistic applications because it stops the greatest number of calibers while maintaining its structural integrity.
Hardness is measured typically using the Brinell hardness scale. The Brinell scale describes the indentation hardness of various materials through the degree of penetration caused by an indenter. Basically, pressure is applied to a steel or carbide ball on the material and the indentation caused by this force is measured and then translated via an equation to a numerical score. One of several definitions used to describe the property of “hardness” in the material science community; it is the scale most commonly used in the steel industry and, by extension, in the steel ballistic plate-manufacturing sector. Typical alloys include roughly around C-.30%, Si-.70%, Mn-1.70%, Cr-1.00%, Ni-.80%, Mo-.50% and B-.004%, though each manufacturer uses their own proprietary blend, this steel makeup is a rough average. AR500 steel on the molecular level then does not seem particularly special, and it really is not as far as steel goes, but it does have a few special properties. Starting from this stock blend steel, it is then heat and quench hardened to its specified 500 Brinell rating. To put that number into perspective, ordinary mild steel only has a Brinell hardness of 120. A square inch of AR500 steel can withstand up to 110 tons of pressure. AR-500 steel is also about the hardest workable material available, everything beyond it on the Brinell scale, such as glass and ceramics, have a tendency to shatter when worked and are therefore susceptible to the catastrophic failure discussed earlier.
The advantage of using such a hard variety of steel is that very little of it is necessary to defeat even very fast rifle rounds. As a result, the overall weight of an AR500 steel bulletproof vest can be kept well below 20lbs while offering complete torso and back protection. In comparison, the ceramic bulletproof vests currently in use by the US Army weigh up to 35lbs, or roughly double the weight of an average NIJ Level III+ AR500 steel vest. Even very thin sheets of AR500 are capable of defeating pistol calibers. Even fully rifle rated plates are relatively thin compared to their Kevlar or Ceramic counterparts. This makes them easier to move around in and less cumbersome. This makes AR500 steel bulletproof vests perfect for those working inside or in tight quarters like vehicles.
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