Infidel Body Armor
By George Paul Tire
Video and Photos by Daniel Kuykendall
Infidel Body Armor was kind enough to let us destroy one of their Level III+ armor plates and I was impressed with how well it stood up. They are a composite made from a combination of Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), Kevlar, and Ceramic wrapped up in carbon fiber. The combination of materials creates an impressive product that weighs 4.7 pounds, light for the protection it offers. The $240 cost is impressive too.
First, we should explain what this armor level means. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is perhaps the most prominent of a number of governmental organizations that test and rate body armor. Level III is its rating for armor that will stop six hits of 7.62x51mm NATO M80 Ball ammunition with each shot no closer than two inches from other shots. This potent load has a 147 grain, steel jacketed bullet at 2,780 feet per second (FPS). It is used in most free world medium machine guns and is often used by snipers and designated marksmen in the military. It is basically the same as .308 Winchester, one of the more popular hunting rounds in the US.
Level III, however, is NOT rated to stop anything other than this particular 7.62x51mm round. It is not rated to stop 5.56x45mm NATO, perhaps the most popular cartridge these days in the US, particularly for self-defense, military and police use. One might think that 7.62×51 is more deadly and I think you would be right, but speed helps bullets break through armor and 5.56 bullets are faster. The two main military versions of 5.56mm are M193 with a 55 grain bullet at 3,165 FPS and M855 with a 62 grain bullet at 3,000 FPS. SS109 is the designation for European versions of M855 and you sometime see it used for imported ammo. The extra speed of 5.56 over the 7.62x51mm is assisted by the smaller diameter of the bullets when dealing with armor. I visualize it like a faster moving ice pick being able to go deeper than a slower marble even though the marble might do more damage to soft tissue. Something that gets through does more damage than something that doesn’t.
There is Level III armor that can’t stop 5.56mm at all. Some can stop M193 and not M855 while other Level III armor can handle M855 and not M193. It depends on the technology and construction of the armor. In my view, 5.56 is a huge threat because of its prevalence and I want to defeat it.
So what is Level III+? It is a term used by armor manufacturers to let us know their armor will do more than Level III, but we have to read the details to know what they mean. Infidel has a good reputation and provides some specific information that proved accurate when we shot their Level III+ plate. They rate it to stop both 5.56mm rounds from the 20” barrel as found on the original M16/AR15 rifles. Both loads produce less velocity from the currently more common 16” M4 copies people are buying today. If a plate can stop it from a 20”, that’s a nice margin of error against what you are most likely to encounter.
I used an 18” barrel AR for our tests and the plate stopped two rounds of M855 with ease. I have no doubts it would have stopped rounds from a 20” barrel. It then stopped the first M193, but not the one I put on precisely on top of the first which is to be expected. The NIJ ratings called for 2 inches of separation between hits, so hits on top of one another don’t count for testing. It then stopped another round of M193 2 inches from the first two hits. It also stopped a round of M80 Ball and just for fun, a round of 7x57mm Mauser. I wondered if a smaller diameter bullet at about the same velocity and energy as the 7.62x51mm might get through, but no go.
This technology armor, by the way, is sacrificial, which means it gives up its life to save yours. Bullets are absorbed as they cut into the armor. The ceramic layer, which is what plays a big role in stopping the 5.56 rounds, is shattered at the point of impact. This is normal and you can’t expect more. Enough hits will wreck it, but the plastics are tough and hung together far better than I expected.
While steel armor can take considerably more abuse, it weighs about twice as much to get the same protection. I can move and carry a useful load with 10-12 pounds of armor, but once it goes over 20 pounds, I have problems. Remember that if we are wearing this stuff, we are likely carrying a rifle, ammo, sidearm and other gear. I might not mind the weight in a fixed position, but being able to move has a huge appeal.
I have a 3 pound plate I purchased some time ago made completely of UHMWPE, but the manufacturer advised me that it is not rated to stop M855, though it will stop M193 as well as Level III threats. That concerns me because there is so much M855 around. I think the extra weight of the Infidel plate would be worth the effort to carry. If I were buying today, I would get the Infidel. It also costs less.
One question I have that can’t be answered is how it would fare against the new M855A1 round. The Army developed it to answer the politically correct demand for “green ammo” but also cunningly came up with something that appears to have more stopping power and penetrates better than earlier ammo. It runs at higher pressure (which leaves some concerned about weapon life) and higher velocity than M855. As with M855, it has a hardened steel penetrator. It is very hard to come by, so I wasn’t able to try it against this plate.
I was more impressed than I expected with this armor and am hoping to hit the Lotto so I can buy some.