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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Advanced ceramics took the materials industry by storm in the early 90’s as the wave into the future. They are often lightweight, strong, and impervious to rust or other common forms of degradation. Ceramic plates are currently used by the United States military because of their marginally higher level of protection compared to more traditional materials. Yet despite their often high-tech reputation, when it comes to applications in ballistic armors, they have a few pronounced drawbacks.
While ceramic ballistic plates can have tensile strengths and hardness levels surpassing hardened steel, they do so at a price. In order to achieve their extreme hardness ratings, ceramic plates become very brittle as a result. In this way, their hardness actually becomes their greatest weakness. In their initial condition, ceramic ballistic plates offer one cohesive strike surface to catch incoming rounds, as the round impacts, the hardness of the ceramic deforms the soft lead, typically aerodynamic bullet into a much flatter mush of semi-molten lead. This now un-fluid dynamic projectile will have a much harder time penetrating through the inner layers of the vest now, so the vest can function and stop the round. As a result of the impact however, the ceramic often cracks under the great force delivered by the projectile. For each subsequent hit, the ceramic plate has less and less strength to counter the force of the bullet and stop it from penetrating. Ceramic plates have a finite number of rounds they can stop effectively, and typically they must be replaced after each hit.
Ceramic plates are extremely hard to manufacture and often times fail quality control during the production process. Due to the exotic materials required and the failure intensive manufacturing processes, the cost of ballistic ceramic plates is the highest in the current bulletproof vest market. Per plate, ceramic plates cost at least 200% more than their steel alternatives. To put our military’s current ballistic plates in perspective in regards to cost, a NIJ Level III+ steel plate typically costs around $150, a single Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert plate used in the US Army’s IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest) can cost up to $600. To put that into perspective, a steel vest with two full AR-500 plates and carrier can be found for only $300.
The combination of their fragility and high cost makes ceramic plates impractical for civilian purposes. While advanced ceramic plates are rated half a step higher on the NIJ rating scale, the negatives associated with using ceramic as a bulletproofing material become more pronounced on the consumer level. While the US military has a vast supply network to replace damaged vests on the field, the civilian does not have this option. Should there be a WROL situation, there is no supply line to get you a new vest should you take a hit, and you would have to work with what you have. The second issue also becomes more pronounced when individually financed. Unlike the military that has the law of large numbers working on their side, an individual that takes a round to a ceramic vest must pay to replace that vest. If working in dangerous environments, the odds of being hit with a second round increases drastically. Your likelihood of getting shot increases the more times you have already been shot.
In terms of consumer-level practicality, the durability and cost of traditional steel plates wins compared to the still new ceramics. While this may change in the future, for right now, the simple AR-500 steel plate makes the most sense for bulletproof protection for the everyday civilian.
While many people mark up the cost of vests made with AR500 steel, thebestbodyarmor.com offers these vests for only $299 right now so that you can afford the protection you need. You can even get $25 off your vest by using promo code “bestvest” at checkout. Unlike a vest that uses ceramic, these vests will protect you against multiple hits and provide the maximum protection for the wearer.