Body Armor Musings (and Some Testing)
Oleg Volk 03.24.15
Body armor has been around since the dawn of history. The first defensive garments were leather and wood, then metal and silk, and most recently synthetic fibers and ceramic plates. While most Americans don’t own ballistic armor, most of us have some protective garment, helmet, or glove for such tasks as riding motorcycles or horses, doing farm work, or playing sports. Ballistic armor, unneeded for most daily tasks for people living outside of the socialist paradises like Detroit, is legal to own and wear. Yet every year, one of the usual suspects who presume to rule America try to ban all or some of the armor for non-government use.
Traditionally, armor has come in two types: soft and hard. The concealable vest above is fairly light and flexible. It can be worn all day with minimal discomfort. It can stop low to mid-power pistol bullets and buckshot. The plate and carrier below are heavier and less comfortable, but will stop most rifle bullets and shotgun slugs.
Besides people living in high-crime areas, body armor is popular with range safety officers and some hunters. Quite a few store it next to the home defense weapons in hopes of being able to don it quickly if need be. Even family members too young or too infirm to bear arms benefit from wearing a passive defense in case of emergencies, such as social unrest. Certain politicians claim that violent criminals use bulletproof vests and that justifies the regularly proposed bans. Criminal use of armor is infrequent and, in any case, should not be used as an excuse to deprive the law-abiding of access to armor.
Even the residents of Russia and China, the two countries we like to cite as examples of dictatorships, can legally own body armor. A friend from Hong Kong recently asked me if Chinese-made armor is any good. He bought two plates on TaoBao, an ebay-like site. Each plate cost about $32US. One was rated up to 7.62x25mm, the other up to 7.62x39mm. “In a country where even chicken eggs are counterfeited, you can’t trust anything.” Lacking the means to test it on his own, he sent the plates to me.
The small plate is steel, about 5″ by 8″, and weighs 1.8lbs. It is intended to reinforce a soft armor vest. The larger plate is woven synthetic fiber, similar to Dyneema. It’s about 11.5″ by 9.5″, weighs 1.3lbs, and feels lighter because the weight is distributed over a greater area. It is sufficient to cover the upper torso of most people.
Firing on the smaller rifle-rated plate at the range, I discovered that US-made 7.62×39 lead core bullets were stopped with minimal denting. The plate was resting against a gelatin block, and very little of the impact was transferred to it. Chinese steel core bullet fared no better. There was no spalling. Just to see if what it would take to defeat the plate, I turned it around (so that the hardened surface was facing the wrong way) and shot it with steel core 7.62×54 FMJ from about three feet. That achieve partial penetration with only about 10% of the bullet passing through and stopping after 4 inches in gelatin. Pretty impressive for the plate not even rated for this caliber!
The pistol-rated plate stopped a wide variety of 9mm, 40S&W, 357Mag, and 45ACP bullets. Tokarev 7.62x25mm FMJ at over 1400fps barely dented it. 22TCM soft point from a 4″ 1911 at 1950fps left barely a mark. For curiosity, I tried Kel-Tec PLR16 with ball ammunition with muzzle velocity around 2100fps. It penetrated. So did .223 soft point and even a frangible range round. It didn’t have much effect on the gelatin, achieving about 4″ of straight-line penetration with no visible cavitation.
So there we have it: bulletproof armor plates are freely sold in Communist China while our domestic politicians argue for banning Americans from owning armor of their own. Perhaps they have far-reaching plans to mistreat the general population and don’t want us to have the means of resistance, which would make them more paranoid than the Chinese Politburo. Or maybe they just seek to prohibit things for the sake of exercising control, such as with the Federal ban on incandescent lightbulbs or the recent West Virginia prohibition on most pet species.