Body armor plays an important role in keeping the user safe from ballistic threats. Among the various types of body armor available, special threat plates have gained significant attention due to their unique features and capabilities. We will be taking a look at what special threat plates are, why we have them, what makes them unique, and their benefits.

What are Special Threat Plates?

Special threat plates, sometimes referred to as special rifle threat (SRT) plates, are a type of rifle plate armor designed to provide enhanced protection against specific rifle rounds that standard plates may not effectively stop.

These rifle plates are typically made from advanced materials such as ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) and ceramic composites, which reduces weight and increases certain protections.

Purpose of Special Rifle Threat Plates

In recent years, the increasing prevalence of high-powered intermediate rifles and the evolving nature of threats faced by law enforcement have led to a growing demand for advanced rifle-rated body armor.

As a result, special threat plates were developed to address these specific emerging challenges, offering enhanced protection against the most common rifle rounds that may not be adequately stopped by standard plates.

The NIJ has been rating body armor for decades, if we take a look at historic military weapons, we understand why plates had to meet specific requirements.

Intermediate cartridges such as 5.56 and 7.62×39 were not as popular as they are today. Many people elected to use the FAL or M1A rifle chambered in 7.62×51, which is a full-sized cartridge.

This cartridge influenced the NIJ rating level 3, however, when it comes to defeating body armor the number one factor is velocity.

As cool as the 308 cartridge is and as hard as it hits, the weapons are heavier than intermediate options, and soldiers couldn’t carry as much ammo due to the size of the caliber, leading the military to seek an intermediate cartridge (5.56).

For this reason, as popular intermediate surplus rounds such as the M855 with a steel core penetrator and M193 chambered in 5.56 became the prevalent rifle threat there became a need for body armor to address these specifically.

Level 3 is tested to 6 shots of 7.62×51 at roughly 2,850 FPS, but it was found that the velocity of M193 and steel core of M855 could defeat some level 3 plates. You can learn more detailed information in our recent article What Does Level III Body Armor Stop?

5.56 vs 7.62
5.56 vs 7.62×51

This is where the engineering of special rifle threat armor began.

What Makes Special Threat Plates Different

The biggest differentiation is SRT plates were derived from the needs of users to stop certain threats rather than to achieve an NIJ rating level.

The NIJ does not currently have a rating for special threat plates.

For example, you have probably heard of level 3+ rifle plates designed to stop M855 “Green tip” in addition to level 3 rated threats, but this is an industry rating rather than an NIJ rating because these plates seek to stop threats beyond NIJ testing for level 3.

While standard plates are designed to meet specific National Institute of Justice (NIJ) ballistic protection levels, special threat plates are designed to address specific rifle rounds that pose more risk and are more prominent.

Conversely, some special threat plates like some of ours shed the level 3 rating entirely to focus on these intermediate cartridge threats like 5.56 and 7.62×39, making them very light.

While they will still stop a 7.62×51 round the back face deformation will exceed the NIJ acceptable 44mm. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you educate yourself about back face deformation risks and mitigation.  

The Pros and Cons of Special Threat Plates

Special threat plates provide improved protection against high-velocity rifle rounds that may not be adequately stopped by standard plates, generally at a reduced weight comparatively.

Our entry SRT plate at Tacticon is only 2.57 pounds, and our SRT+ is around 4.1 but provides greater protection.

Special threat plate vs level 3 rifle armor
Tacticon Armament SRT and Level 3 plate width

Both of these plates by design do not meet the level 3 standards set by NIJ, however, we have steel body armor level 3+ plates, and level 3+ ceramic plates at only 4.4 pounds, which are my personal favorite.

The downside of special threat plates typically comes on models that shed the level 3 rating, this is because they will not protect the user against 308 rounds as effectively as level III armor plates would.

This comes down to a choice based on if the user expects to actually face such a threat.

Another downside comes due to the cost of level 3+ plates which are sometimes expensive, some plates cost more than others, but the rule of thumb tends to be that lighter plates will be more expensive.

What Level are Special Threat Plates?

Typically special threat plates come in industry levels “SRT” or “level 3+” depending on the plate and the threats it is designed and tested to stop.

Currently, NIJ does not have a rating, however, when NIJ 0101.07 becomes the standard, rifle plates will only come in three ratings. Rating RF2 is essentially a level 3+ plate, stopping M193, M855, M855A1 and 7.62×51.

Ballistic Protection and Calibers

Special threat plates do not fall neatly into the NIJ’s standard classification system, which includes levels such as Level III and Level IV.

Instead, they are designed to provide protection against specific types of high-velocity rifle rounds that may pose a greater risk to users.

The ballistic protection provided by special threat plates typically falls between Level III and Level IV, in the case of level 3+ rifle armor.

Other rifle plates like our SRT, SRT+, or Hesco L210s for example, are sub-level 3 because they are designed to stop the fast moving M193 5.56 round and M855, but are not designed to withstand the back face deformation requirements against 7.62×51.

What is the Difference Between Level 3 Special Threat and Level 4?

The difference is level 3+ SRT plates will not stop the 30-06 “Black tip” armor piercing round that level 4 must stop to achieve its rating.

Some SRT plates are designed to stop 5.56 and 7.62×39 mild penetrating rounds, however, you must check with the company regarding the specific plates and rounds to be sure. Level 4 is designed to stop armor piercing rounds, SRT plates generally are not.

Final Thoughts

Special threat plates are derived from user needs rather than rating requirements.

Reports of shootings show that the most common rifle threats are 5.56 and 7.62×39, larger calibers such as 308 are used far less frequently.

This is why many people use special rifle threat plates such as our SRT and SRT+, including law enforcement. This enables the user to be protected against likely threats, shedding a lot of weight in the process.

Our steel rifle plates are all rated for level 3+, they will stop 308 per NIJ, M855 “Green tip” rounds, and 7.62×39 with ease at a very affordable price point.

Finally, our level 3+ ceramic plate comes in at a very low weight of only 4.4 pounds and achieves the desired protection required by NIJ to be called level 3, as well as stopping the tricky 5.56 rounds some level 3 plates fail to stop. 

We rigorously test our plates, including every batch of steel plates in our replicated NIJ lab to ensure our plates are the most tested on the market.

If you have any questions don’t be afraid to reach out.