What Are Level 4 Armor Plates?

What Are Level 4 Armor Plates?

Body armor comes in various ballistic protection levels based on NIJ Standards. These levels are intended to roughly correlate to the type of threat the wearer faces.

The Short Answer: Level 4 Plates are the highest rating level available. These plates are designed to withstand armor-piercing rifle ammunition. Our full breakdown of the various levels (both old and new) and armor types is available here. This article will focus exclusively on Level 4 plates.

Unpacking Level 4 Plates and Their Capabilities

Image is of our ICEPLATE EXO plate carrier being held by a user.

The Other NIJ Levels of Protection

Before diving into Level 4 plates, let’s take a quick look at the other levels. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the agency responsible for certifying the various protection levels of armor. Levels 2 and 3A only protect against handgun rounds, 9mm and .357 for Level 2, and 9mm fired from an SMG and .44 Magnum for Level 3A. Armor at this level is typically soft body armor. Levels 3 and 4 are armor plates and offer rifle protection. Level 3 protects the wearer from 7.62x51 (battle rifle rounds) and 5.56/7.62x38 (intermediate caliber rounds). Level 4 is the king of the hill offering protection from everything up to and including a single hit of .30-06 armor-piercing bullets.

The Strike Face

Offering protection against a given round means more than simply preventing the round from penetrating, though that is a critical element. Level 4 armor should absorb a bullet of the specified caliber/energy without penetrating through, protecting the wearer. If not correctly designed, injury can still occur, however. Armor plates have an external strike face, i.e. the “front” that is exposed to fire. The strike face is typically curved outward in a single curve which roughly conforms to the wearer’s body.

The Backface

The side against the wearer’s body is the backface. Body armor plates spread the force of a rifle bullet’s impact, limiting penetration. The plate itself can still deform and be pushed inward upon the wearer, a phenomenon known as backface deformation. If backface deformation is severe enough it can cause blunt force trauma. Level 4 plates should be designed so that backface deformation is minimized and does not pose a threat to the wearer. Some Level 4 armor is designated as “multi-hit.” While most hard armor is only guaranteed to stop a single hit, multi-hit armor claims to be able to take multiple strikes at the rating level and maintain its protection capability. Keep in mind that "multi-hit" is a manufacturer specification and not an official NIJ rating.

Level 3 vs Level 4 Plates

Level 3 and Level 4 hard armor plates both stop rifle-caliber ballistic threats. Both are also classified as hard armor plates rather than flexible soft armor like Level 2-3A. Both incur a bit of additional weight and bulk over Level 2 and Level 3A soft armor, but in turn, provide a major upgrade in additional protection.

However, there are some critical differences between Level 3 and Level 4 armor. While Level 3 hard plates will stop 5.56mm rifle rounds, they will only stop jacketed soft-core ammunition. Bullets with a steel penetrator like the M855 “green tip” may penetrate through Level III armor (some armor labeled “III+” can stop green tip but this is not an NIJ certification). Level 4 will stop all threats stopped by Levels 2, 3A, and 3. It will stop handgun rounds, 7.62x51 mild core, 5.56x45 (including “green tip”), 7.62x39, and up to 30-06 AP bullets.

Maximizing Your Protection

In some situations and environments, it may be worthwhile to augment your Level IV plates. Hard ballistic armor can be supplemented with soft, Level 3A armor for added protection. Soft armor can cover a greater area, though at a lesser ballistic threat level. Soft armor can also provide some level of protection against backface deformation. Be aware that some ballistic plates only provide their stated level of protection when used “ICW” or “in conjunction with” Level 3A soft armor. (This is NOT the case with DFNDR plates sold by Qore Performance, which are considered “standalone” plates.)

If side protection is needed, side plates can also be worn. Side plates are small, square, or rectangular plates worn on the side of the body. Side plates can protect the abdomen from rifle fire but at the expense of added weight and bulk. Whether or not to use side plates is an individual or organizational decision.

Who Needs Level 4 Plates and Why?

Level 4 plates are the top-of-the-line ballistic protection, so who needs Level IV ballistic plates?

Infographic outlines who commonly uses level 4 plates.

Military Personnel

Among others, the military. Multi-hit, AP-resistant armor is mission-essential equipment for military personnel. Level 4 armor plates are standard issue equipment, as rifle fire is the essential threat faced by ground combat troops. The U.S. military has issued the ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert) as a general issue item since 2005. The ESAPI offers equivalent protection to NIJ Level IV plates.

Law Enforcement Officers

Hard armor plates are also much needed for law enforcement officers, especially those at exceptionally high risk of rifle threats. While pistols are the most common threat to most law enforcement personnel due to their concealability, rifles remain a threat and certainly more of a threat to SWAT, SRT, and other specialized entry teams. It is also a good idea and common to make Level 4 armor available for all officers who may respond to mass shooters, barricaded subjects, and other situations with credible rifle threats. Many LEOs across the United States carry Level 4 armor plates in the cruiser along with the patrol rifle and the two often deploy together.

Medical & Rescue Personnel

Protecting medical and rescue personnel in high-consequence situations is of utmost importance. If they are wounded you not only gain an additional casualty but also reduce your medical care capability. As such, rifle-level ballistic protection is desirable for all types of first responders. Firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and other emergency response personnel may be exposed to gunfire as well.

Prepared Citizens

Finally, prepared Citizens may also wish to purchase body armor.  Personally owned ballistic plates can be useful to defend your home or keep you safe in case of emergencies. With the increase in civil unrest, protests, demonstrations, increasingly polarized election cycles, and other sources of civil strife, owning body armor is a smart idea for any citizen wishing to stay prepared in the modern world.

Legality of Armor Plates

At the time of this writing, it is legal for Citizens to own body armor throughout the United States, with a couple of caveats. First, it is illegal for convicted felons to own body armor in all fifty states. In some states it is also a crime, or results in an enhanced sentence, to use body armor in the commission of another crime. You must be aware of your own state and local laws. Also, be aware that laws can change; California and Illinois have introduced laws making it illegal for the average Citizen to purchase body armor. While these laws have yet to be passed, it is certainly possible they will get passed in the future.

How Qore Performance Can Help

At Qore Performance, we are dedicated to serving the military, law enforcement, and prepared citizens. Qore Performance offers both Level 3+ plates and Level 4 plates to provide you with the ballistic protection you need. DFNDR plates are top-of-the-line and feature a Crystalline Ceramic Strike Face and Strike Core supported by our proprietary System Structural Reinforcement technology to enhance multi-hit ability. The backing support is engineered with the highest grade of ballistic materials; an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber, bound with a resin matrix to make it a hard stand-alone armor system and equipped with Spall-Tek to further reduce deflection of projectile fragments. These are standalone plates with multi-hit capability.

Image shows two military member using ICEPLATE EXO.

This armor can be inserted into almost any plate carrier but is fully optimized for our ICEPLATE EXO® plate carrier. ICEPLATE EXO® is lightweight, rugged, and trusted by the nation’s most elite special operators. When used in conjunction with ICEVENTS® and ICEPLATE®, ICEPLATE EXO® Gen 3 is the most technologically advanced quick-release plate carrier on the planet. Each ICEPLATE® allows you to carry 50 ounces of drinkable water, integrated into the profile of your body armor, rather than as an afterthought “bladder” on the back. The ICEPLATE® Curve also allows you to harness water’s thermal mass. Freezing the ICEPLATE® Curve will keep you cool and provide cold drinking water as it melts while, inversely, filling it with hot water will help keep you warm.

Searching for the perfect setup? Explore Qore Performance’s ICEPLATE EXO® and DFNDR Level 4 Plates to experience the difference for yourself!

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