How Good Are The Military Surplus Armor Plates Being Sold On Ebay?

An evaluation of different types of commonly available body armor.

 

Aluminum Oxide plate from the 1990's
mid 90's 10x12 SAPIs
an armor piercing 30-06 goes right trhough an aluminum oxide plate
failed to stop an armor piercing 30-06.

Aluminum Oxide/Fiberglass Ceramic Composite Armor Plates

Country of Origin: United States
Era of Use: Mid 90's to early 2000's
Composition: Aluminum Oxide tiles over heavy fiberglass backing.
Approximate Weight: 7lbs
Protective Capabilities:

Background: Aluminum Oxide/Fiberglass plates were developed in the 1960's and were used by helicopter Pilots during the Vietnam War. The "Chicken Plates" of that era covered most of the front and back of the torso, and a complete vest weighed roughly 30lbs. These vests were considered to heavy for Ground Troops. A similar vest made of Boron Carbide/Fiberglass plates was developed for ground troops, but at 20lbs was also considered to heavy.

During the early 90's, the basic concept from the "chicken plate" was redesigned for ground troops. The composition remained the same, although the shape was cropped into a 10x12 inch wide plate that could be worn in the front or back. I have personally seen 4 variations of this plate.

Dammaged Aluminum Oxide Plate that was shot with a rifle round
Plate consists of 0.40" aluminum oxide tiles over 3/8" of heavy fiberglass.

The way an Aluminum Oxide/Fiberglass plate works, is that when a bullet strikes the aluminum oxide tile, it breaks up, and the bullet fragments get absorbed by the heavy fiberglass backing. The down side to this type of armor is that it is relatively heavy, and if the same area is struck twice, the second bullet wont hit a tile and will pass through the fiberglass.

I've seen this type of plate described as "Level 4" but based on my experiments they are unable to stop armor piercing 30-06, which is required to be rated for level 4 threat protection. This type of plate was able to stop standard FMJ 30-06, 7.62mm NATO, 5.56mm NATO (steel tipped), as well as lesser rounds. Base on the weight, relative to performance, I think AR500 steel plates are more practical as they don't degrade as rapidly after multiple shots.

 
this is a size medium ESAPI plate marked "APM2 protection"
mid-2000's ESAPI
this is a ESAPI plate that withstood 6 shots before the 7th penetrated.
boron carbide shell taken off ESAPI after a test

SmallArms Protective Inserts or SAPIs and Enhanced SAPIs or ESAPIs

Country of Origin: United States
Era of Use: early 2000's through present
Composition:Boron Carbide Shell over UHMWPE backing.
Approximate Weight: 4 and 5.5LBS (medium plate)
Protective Capabilities:

A SAPI and ESAPI are essentially constructed the same way, and are similar in appearance with the exception that SAPIs are marked "M80 Ball Protection" while ESAPIs are labeled "APM2 Protection" (M2 means 30-06, AP means armor piercing). Both are constructed of a boron carbide shell over an ultra high molecular weigh polyethylene (AKA spectra/dynema). The boron carbide shell on the ESAPI is 0.10" thicker than the SAPI, this is where the added weight and protection comes from.

SAPIs come in 5 sizes, x-small through x-large. I prefer medium as they fit any standard 10x12 plate pocket and are lighter than large plates. Simpler plate called side sapis or esibis are constructed the same way but are designed to fit under the armpits.

Given that ESAPIs are already rated for AP 30-06, I did an endurance test with an AK47 instead. I shot a size small ESAPI 7 times before a round penetrated. Unlike fiberglass, UHMWPE does offer some protection against rifle rounds, so it is possible for multiple rounds to strike the same location without penetrating.

 
this is a serbian armor plate made entrily from polyethalene
Serbian Mile Dragic 100% Dynema plates.
this is a badly dammaged serbian armor plate that withstood multiple rifle shots.
lightweight but effective at stopping most rifle rounds.

Mile Dragic Spectra Rifle Plates

Country of Origin: Serbia
Era of Use: early 2000's through present
Composition:UHMWPE
Approximate Weight: 3lbs
Protective Capabilities:

Mile Dragic plates are unique in that they are not composite plates, they are solid Polyethylene (Spectra/dynema). Rather than breaking the bullet the way SAPIs do, they simply absorb the bullet whole. The Benefit of this design is that they are extremely light weight, just over 3lbs each. The downside of this design is that Mile Dragic plates do not stop 5.56mm NATO (steel tipped).

This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest that stopped an AK47 bullet.
This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest that stopped an AK47 bullet.
This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest that stopped an AK47 bullet.
This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest that failed to stop a 308 bullet.

6b3/6b5 6.5mm Titanium Armor Plates

Country of Origin: Russia
Era of Use: 1980's through 2000's
Composition:Titanium
Protective Capabilities:

Soviet surplus body armor is more of a novelty than a practical source of protection. Despite being poorly designed, made from inferior quality textiles, and being extremely heavy, it also has the distinction of not being very effective.

I tested 3 three of the plates from a 6B3 vest against an 7.62x39mm (AK47), M193 ball (5.56mm, M16A1 style rifle) and M80 ball (7.62mm, M14 style rifle). The only round the plates stopped was the 7.62x39mm. The irony being that the Soviets designed a vest that would protect their solider against WARSAW pact weapons, but not NATO issued weapons.

This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest that failed to stop a 5.56mm bullet.
This is a Titanium plate from a 6b3 vest failed to stop a 5.56mm bullet.

The 6B3 vest was actually very innovative in concept. The base was a synthetic fiber vest (similar to Kevlar) that had pockets on the outside for rifle magazines, plus Titanium plates added for rifle protection. The design had multiple flaws.

The basic design of the vest may have been salvageable if they had just used solid titanium plates in front, and tripled the amount of ballistic fiber in back to be capable of stopping a 9mm NATO round without titanium plates.