When defending against threats it is important to know not all armor performs the same. The term “Bulletproof vest” is often thrown around casually, but it gives the wrong connotation. In reality no armor is truly bulletproof, and there is a rating system used for armor established by the National Institute of Justice to rate armor’s ability to stop different threats. 

One of the largest and most important distinctions the NIJ makes in the rating process is armor that will stop pistol rounds, and armor that will stop rifle rounds. There are many different calibers commonly used for rifles, and the same can be said for pistols. Rifles are significantly more powerful than pistols, and individual rounds have unique levels of firepower that affect their ability to defeat armor. 

Rifles in particular have higher muzzle velocities and more powerful ammunition which poses greater threat that necessitates higher levels of body armor for adequate protection. Body armor rated as Level III and Level IV are designed to protect against rifle fire. Lower levels such as IIA, II, IIIA, or Kevlar vests, while effective against handgun rounds are insufficient against rifle rounds.

Understanding Special Rifle Threat

Special Rifle Threat (SRT) is a classification for body armor that has been specially designed to protect against specific rifle threats that are not included in the standard National Institute of Justice (NIJ) ratings. SRT and SRT+ body armor can resist certain rifle calibers that would penetrate lower levels of armor. SRT plates are designed to stop rounds from the most common threats, which at this time are what are called “Intermediate cartridges,” such as 5.56 and 7.62×39. 

Military and law enforcement have moved away from full powered cartridges such as 308 for standard issue weapon systems because they are overpowered, have more recoil, and your average person can only carry so much ammo. As always happens, what the military and law enforcement does, the civilian market follows suit. The most popular rifle in the United States is the AR15, which fires 5.56. 

SRT body armor has become very popular as it stops the most common threats and is able to remain more lightweight than other rifle plates on the market. SRT plates are fairly affordable, and a great alternative to traditional rifle plates due primarily to weight and thin design. 

NIJ Certification

The NIJ (National Institute of Justice) is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. It is responsible for setting performance standards for body armor and conducts rigorous testing to ensure body armor meets these standards. When a piece of body armor is NIJ Certified it signifies that the armor has been tested and proven to protect against the ballistic threats that it is rated for.

Is Rifle Armor NIJ Certified?

Tacticon offers a range of NIJ certified body armor plates, such as the AR500 and AR600 level III+ steel plates. These plates are certified NIJ level 3, however are capable of stopping M855 Green Tip 5.56 rounds, making them a level 3+ plate. These plates have undergone the rigorous testing required to ensure they can protect against ballistic threats covered by the NIJ’s level 3 rating. Further level 3 multicurve armor plates and level 4 armor plates from Tacticon are awaiting NIJ certification at this moment. 

Types of Rifles and Ballistic Defense

As a general overview of rifles and how they operate we have included details on what separates different types of rifles and how they operate. The way a rifle operates generally influences the purposes the rifle is designed for and the rounds it will fire. We have also included recommendations on the proper rifle armor you should consider using to properly protect yourself.

Bolt Action Rifles

Bolt action rifles fire a single shot before needing the bolt to be manually operated by the shooter to eject the spent casing and load the next round. There is an extension on the bolt protruding a couple inches allowing the shooter to grab the bolt and accurate the mechanism. While there are many companies who produce these rifles in many calibers they are exclusively accuracy based weapons. 

They do not fire rapidly, and because they require manual operation they can be made with tighter tolerances for more precision. Again, they can be made in many calibers, but most commonly larger calibers like 308, 6.5 Creedmoor, 30-06. Many people hunt with these rifles, and many military sniper rifles come in this configuration. 

The best defense against these rifles would most likely be level 4 ceramic plates, however, a level 3 plate made of either ceramic, UHMWPE, or steel would protect against these rifles in certain calibers.

Semi Automatic Rifles

Semi automatic rifles are the most popular rifles in the United States currently. This is largely due to the popularity of the AR-15, surplus from the military and law enforcement, and importation of foreign surplus weapons. Again, they come in a variety of calibers, the most popular however tends to be 5.56, 7.62×39, and 308. These weapons fire with each pull of the trigger, without the need for the shooter to cycle the weapon. 

Intermediate cartridges like the 5.56 come in a variety of rounds, some of which different armor materials have difficulty defeating. The best bet would be level 3+ and level 4 plates to defend against these threats. 

Automatic Rifles

Automatic rifles continuously fire bullets as long as the trigger is held down. They are reserved exclusively for the military and fire a variety of rounds including armor piercing and incendiary, Level IV becomes the only viable defense against weapons of this sort. 

Understanding The Different Types of Rifle Fire

Tacitcon provides various types of rifle plates that can protect against different types of rifle fire. It’s essential to note that threats aren’t only from the front in a standing position; they can come from different angles and positions. 

Enfilade Fire

Enfilade fire occurs when the long axis of the beaten zone coincides or nearly coincides with the long axis of the target. That was super technical, let’s simplify. Enfilade fire occurs in a CQB environment within a narrow space such as a trench or long hallway.  

Frontal Fire

This is the type of fire one might expect in a direct confrontation with an opponent, such as a shootout in an open area. This is typically outdoors and often occurs at a distance. 

Flanking Fire

Flanking fire is delivered directly against the flank of the target. This type of fire may occur in a situation where an opponent has managed to get to the side of the target’s position. For such situations, body armor side plates can provide extra protection. 

AR  600 side plate armor in tactical vest - Tacticon Armament
AR600 side plates

Oblique Fire

Oblique fire is delivered on the oblique of a target when the target is anywhere between frontal and flanking. Again, this typically occurs in an open area, from a distance. 

When facing these types of rifle fire situations it is important to move quickly and dynamically with lightweight rifle armor such as Tacticon SRT and SRT+ plates. 

What are Rifle Plates Made Of?

Rifle plates come in a variety of materials, each with its pros and cons. The most common materials used are ceramic, steel, and polyethylene. The Tacticon SRT plate is 2.57 pounds and made of pure polyethylene, where the SRT+ is 4.1 pounds and has a ceramic strike face and polyethylene backer. 

Ceramic Rifle Armor Plates

Ceramic + Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) rifle plates - Tacticon Armament
Ceramic UHMWPE rifle plates

Ceramic body armor plates are made from composite materials and have a hard ceramic outer strike face to break apart the projectile. This strike face is resistant to rifle shots due to its hardness and its ability to absorb and disperse the impact energy of the bullet.

Pros of Ceramic Rifle Plates

Ceramic plates offer excellent protection levels, including against armor piercing rounds in the level 4 configuration. They are also lighter than steel plates, which can make them more comfortable to wear over long periods.

Cons of Ceramic Rifle Plates

However ceramic plates can be brittle, meaning they can crack or break if dropped or hit hard enough. 

Steel Rifle Armor Plates

Steel armor plates - Tacticon Armament
Steel armor plates

Steel body armor plates are made from ballistic steel, a type of hard, strong steel designed to resist the penetration of bullets.

Pros of Steel Rifle Plates

Steel plates are very durable and can withstand multiple hits without losing their protective qualities. They also tend to be thinner than ceramic plates, which can make them easier to wear under clothing.

Cons of Steel Rifle Plates

However, steel plates are heavier than ceramic or polyethylene plates, which can make them less comfortable to wear for long periods. They also can cause bullet fragmentation, which could potentially harm the wearer or bystanders. For this reason a protective coating is applied to all Tacticon steel plates to encapsulate all fragment particles. 

Polyethylene Rifle Plates

Polyethylene plates are made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), a type of very tough plastic. Believe it or not, it has been around for over 100 years, and is used in many things such as food storage, joint replacements, and of course, body armor.

Ultra high molecular                       weight polyethylene Polyethylene rifle plates- Tacticon Armament
Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethline (UHMWPE) rifle plates

Pros of Polyethylene Rifle Plates

Polyethylene plates are exceptionally lightweight and can stop most rounds as long as they do not contain any sort of steel penetration tip, such as M855. 

Cons of Polyethylene Rifle Plates

However, polyethylene plates can be susceptible to degradation from ultraviolet light and may have reduced effectiveness at high temperatures. They can also be thicker than steel or ceramic plates, potentially making them harder to conceal. They tend to be the most expensive as well, and are susceptible to penetration from any steel tipped round. 

Common Rifle Armor Questions Answered

What is a special threat plate? 

A special threat plate is a type of body armor specifically designed to protect against threats not covered by standard NIJ ratings. They may even forgo the level III standard of stopping 7.62×51 with less than 44mm of backface deformation to remain light, focused primarily on stopping the intermediate cartridges. 

What are the NIJ testing levels? 

NIJ testing levels refer to the different levels of protection offered by body armor, as defined and tested by the NIJ. They consist of the following pistol armor levels:

Level IIA which is rated for 9MM and 40 S&W

Level II which is rated for 357 Magnum and lesser threats

Level IIIA which is rated for 44 Magnum and 357 Sig, and all threats covered by the previous two levels

And rifle plates:

Level III stops 6 rounds of 7.62×51 with less than 44mm of backface deformation for the first two rounds. 

Level IV which is rated to stop one rounds of 30-06 armor piercing, followed by a “Lesser threat.”

What armor plates stop rifle rounds? 

Armor plates rated at Level III and level IV will stop rifle rounds, as well as SRT plates rated for specific rounds. 

What rifle calibers penetrate body armor? 

The ability of a rifle caliber to penetrate body armor depends on factors such as the bullet’s speed, mass, material, and design, as well as the type and thickness of the body armor. There are armor-piercing rounds, however, level IV armor stops just about any realistic rifle threat outside of 50 BMG. Therefore, speed is one of the largest predictors of penetration when it comes to rifles. For this reason the NIJ tests plates with specific speed requirements that are typically higher than would be expected in real world conditions. 

What are rifle plates made out of? 

Rifle plates can be made out of a variety of materials, including ceramic, steel, and polyethylene.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to rifle protection, it’s crucial to understand the different threat levels, types of fire, and the materials used in making body armor. Consider your personal needs, evaluate the available options, and make informed decisions when it comes to personal safety and the use of rifle protection body armor. Body armor can save lives in the right scenarios, but it’s equally important to invest in training and strategic planning for high threat situations.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.