Differences Between Different Levels of Armor Plates

The NIJ classifies body armor in to 5 distinct levels:

Level IIA, Level II, Level IIIA, Level III and Level IV; by their ability to prevent specified rounds at predetermined velocities. The present standard is NIJ 101.06. Also please be aware that while a greater degree generally means protection from powerful rounds, it doesn’t account for additional factors like weight, or multi-hit capacity. Due to this it’s imperative that you select body armor that’s best for the situation rather than the one that’s just rated the highest.


NIJ Level IIA armor is usually soft body armor, which means it consists of layers of high-strength woven fibers. Frequent kinds of those fibers are aramid fibers like Kevlar, Twaron, and Goldflex or Polyethylene fibers like Spectra and Dyneema. Level IIA was made to prevent a .9mm FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) round at ~1165 ft per minute (ft/s) or a .40 S&W FMJ at 1065 ft/s. Most frequently found in soft body armor vests, Level IIA is normally the lightest, most flexible, most comfortable and easiest to hide.

NIJ Level II

A step over Level IIA is Level II that’s also most commonly soft body armor. Level II is intended to shield from .9mm FMJ traveling at a rate of ~1245 ft/s along with also a .357 Magnum JSP (Jacketed Soft Point) at ~1,430 ft/s. Much like IIA, Level II body armor is usually very lightweight, easily wearable and easy to hide, however it provides considerably more protection from blunt force injury (injury brought on by the kinetic power of this round hitting the vest or plate ) As a result of this variable many concealable body armor vests are either Level II or Level IIIA, together with Grade IIA falling mainly out of use.


Level IIIA was made to prevent .357 Sig FMJ FN (Flat Nose) bullets traveling at a speed of ~1470 ft/s and .44 Magnum SJHP (Semi Jacketed Hollow Point) rounds in a speed of 1430 ft/s. Like IIA and Level II, Level IIIA is most commonly soft plate, nevertheless tough armor plates and ballistic shields can occasionally be seen with a score of degree IIIA.


At degree III, we transition into soft body armor vests into the sphere of ballistic plates. Ballistic body armor plates can also be called rifle plates or hard armor plates. Level III rifle plates are intended to prevent 6 spaced hits of 7.62x51mm NATO FMJ (U.S. Military designation M80) in a speed of ~2780 ft/s, which is quite much like this .308 Winchester round frequently used. Some producers also offer you tough armor rifle plates which are known as level III+. While the NIJ doesn’t use the score of degree III+, these plates generally possess the + to signify that they discontinue the very same rounds at greater velocities or to signify shield from NIJ threat level III and additional dangers like M855 and M193. Level III and III+ body armor plates are located in many different different price points based on the rifle plate weight and substance. The least expensive and most of those options are generally metal body armor plates that could weigh anywhere from 8-10 pounds based on how big the plate. While more costly alternatives like the ones made from Polyethylene or ceramic, sometimes weigh no more than 3 lbs.

NIJ Level IV

Grade IV ballistic plates would be the highest rated tough armor plates beneath NIJ 101.06 criteria. These hard armor plates were created to shoot 1 hit in an armor-piercing rifle. These rifle discs are all tested to conquer 7.62 millimeter armor piercing (AP) bullets (also known was .30-06 or 30 ot 6) traveling at a speed of 2880 ft/s. Please be aware that because degree IV ballistic plates are just analyzed to prevent 1 shot in comparison to 6 shots out of a flat III tough palate plate, a flat IV hard armor plate isn’t necessarily better than a flat III hard armor plate. Apart from NIJ certificate there are different criteria of bullet resistance like the U.S. Military’s SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) criteria, which includes plates made to military specifications. This regular first came to play their Interceptor body armor (IBA) and afterwards with their Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) along with the Modular Tactical Vest (MTV). Since 2005, they’ve moved into the ESAPI (Improved SAPI) Program. Additionally, there are what are known as Particular Risks plates that are made to prevent common dangers while reducing cost and weight. Typically examples of those plates are AK-47 and AR-15 plates.

Special Threat Plates

The L210 is not a Level III or Level IV plate. It is what is called a Special Threat Plate. As stated above, the NIJ defines a Level III plate as a a plate which will prevent 7.62×51 M80 ball and a Level IV plate as a single which will prevent 30-06 M2 AP.

However, what if you are not really worried about full-powered threats like M80 ball? Many militaries are moving to intermediate capsules throughout the past couple of decades, as have many civilian shooters and law enforcement agencies. And that is reflected in offense; many offenders and active shooters lately have employed both handguns or intermediate gun calibers. Additionally, some Level 3 plates aren’t able to prevent M855 ball owing to the mild-steel armor-penetrating core. They were not equipped with this danger in mind.

Therefore, some firms like HESCO sell “Special Threat Plates”, made around a distinctive threat not included with the NIJ standards. The L210 is a great illustration of this concept; by dropping M80 ball protection it stops several and AKM light armor-penetrating rounds.

Alex Riddle
Alex Riddle

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