how "bulletproof" are the new buillet-proof" vests?

I realize there is no such thing as an absolute bullet-proof vest; “bullet-resistant vest” would be more accurate a term. But I also understand that there have been significant advances in tactical body armor,which has yielded vests that are claimed to defeat most small arms fire; even, as some manufacturers attest, 9 mm FMJ from a submachine gun.

I would be interested in reading input from knowledgeable combat or law enforcement veterans, or others aware of these armor advances, whether these claims are accurate, and if these new vests would be more useful than older models in certain combat situations --either on the battlefield or in a violent stateside shootout.

Bullet “resistant” is correct. Bullet “proof” would be a tank. Inside an armored landing craft. Moored at a concrete quay.

Now then, since the invention of Kevlar and Spectra fibers, most vests have worked very well, given their use and what’s known as the “threat level”.

Vests are “rated” for what they’ll stop- Level I, Level II, Level IIa, etc. I don’t know the particular values, but it was- perhaps still is- where a certain level will stop up to a certain size and power round. I believe, though my memory may indeed be faulty, that the “standard” for police and civilian armor was L2a, which would stop most 9mm, 45ACP, low-vel .44 mag, some .357, etc. In other words, most- but not all- typical handgun calibers.

As I said, they’ve worked well for years. The only improvements being in size and comfort: A newer L2a vest is thinner and lighter than, say, a ten-year-old L2a vest.

The vests work by, quite simply, not allowing the threads to tear. If the fabric does not rip or break, the bullet is blunted and does not penetrate. Better (higher threat level) vests both provide more “padding” and also are strong enough to resist non-deforming bullets.

You also have to remember that the bullet is “defeated”, yes, but most of the kinetic energy is still transferred to you, the wearer. A person can easily be significantly injured simply from the blunt trauma- broken ribs are common, massive bruising is a given, and it’s generally an unpleasant event all around.

To answer your question, yes, the newer the vest or armor (they have arm, leg and face guards too) the better it is. Not only from a comfort and weight standpoint, but the materials the vests are made of tends to degrade over time. Years ago, it was a common PD requirement that vests be replaced every three to five years. They also couldn’t be washed in the conventional sense.
Which also means, don’t trust your life to an older, used vest- it may not be a “true” L2a anymore.

And to be perfectly honest, if you are planning to go somewhere or do something where you feel you’ll need armor, by far the best solution would be to NOT go there or do that. Vests do NOT make the wearer invulnerable.

Doc Nickel pretty much covered it all. The reason the kevlar blunts the bullet is that it is designed to dissipate the energy at each successive layer. The Dept. of Justice rates armor based on what it will stop. Also, a “bulletproof” vest is not effective for knives. There are special “corrections vests” that are made with stabbing in mind that will not let a knife through, (similar to a military flak vest) but those are not very good for bullets. To make a “one vest for all seasons” right now is possible, but it is extremely thick due to the different layerings and weaves for each purpose, and very expensive. The whole point behind the armor, as Doc said, is not to make you invulnerable, but to increase your odds of survival.

Level I - .38 special and .22 long rifle

Level IIA - 9mm FMJ and .357 Magnum, standard velocity (1090 fps and 1250 fps)

Level II - 9mm FMJ and .357 Magnum, high velocity (1195 fps and 1375 fps)

Level IIIA - 9mm FMJ “super vel” and .44 Magnum (1400 fps for both)

The addition of the Trauma Plates are for rifle protection graded as:

III - .308 FMJ (6 rounds @ 2750 fps), .223 FMJ and 7.62 X 39 FMJ steel core

IV - 30.06 Armor Piercing (one shot @ 2850 fps)

We took a level IIa vest and folded it around a 2X4. Then we shot a 9x25 round at it that penetrated the rest, the 2X4, and then the vest again in the back.
A 9x25 is a 10mm case necked down to fit a 9mm bullet. The projectiles are usually clocked at around 1500 fps.

It’s been mentioned before, but it is important to stress the fact that you can’t just say “This vest will stop a 9mm.” Because the velocity has so much to do with it. Even a 22 magnum, which sounds like such a tiny bullet (and it is), will penetrate a standard street vest if fired through a rifle. It is going so fast, and the bullet is so small, it penetrates.

Also, that whole thing about the vest degrading after 3 years is nonsense. The warranty on them expires after 3 years but- like the warranty on your car- the things can last so much longer.
… wait a minute- come to think of it, my car broke two weeks after the warranty was up…
Anyway, that is just so that the manufacturer can put a limit to how long he is liable for ‘malfunction’. What really sucks is that when you find out it doesn’t work, you are probably dead by then.
Also, a wet vest loses almost all of it’s protection. But after it dries, it should be ok again. Personally, I thought that once it got soaked that was it. But a friend of mine who works for the largest SWAT Team supplier in the southeast explained that it would be fine once it was dry. I think warranty might expire if it gets too wet, though. But it will still work fine.
Basically, what I am saying is: if you are in a business where you will probably get shot like a police department or something, then always have a new vest. But if you are Jow Citizen and you find a great deal on an older vest, go for it- it should be fine as long as it had no holes :slight_smile:

A while back I saw a program on TLC or Discovery where they showed the next generation body armor. This new armor actually absorbed the kenetic energy and evenly distributed it throughout the entire body armor. They showed the inventor going around actually shooting himself with a large caliber handgun and not even being bruised. It was pretty cool to see. They also showed it wrapped around a clay body then they shot the crap out of it and it barely dented the soft clay. The only draw back was that it was to thick to be worn under clothes. IIRC, only swat teams are using it now because of it is bulky.

Agreed that mere caliber has little to do with the armor’s capability. The Soviets came up with a clever little handgun based on the Makarov (itself based on the Walther) that was very flat- just under 3/4" thick at it’s widest.

It fired a tiny bottlenecked cartridge of a nominal .21 caliber. The bullet would sail right through a vest, the trauma plate (typically a titatnium or ceramic-composite plate that’s right in the center of the vest, adding extra protection) and even popped right through- both sides- of a US Military “Fritz” Kevlar helmet.

And of course, any rifle caliber, even with softpoints, will blow right through both sides of pretty much any non-SWAT armor. The ubiquitous .223 Remington will pierce 1/4" steel plate without breaking a sweat. I’ve seen 1" thick steel “gongs” at a rifle range, with 1/2" deep “craters” from a 30-'06. A .338 at closer range will dent the back.

However, I do insist on the degradation of the vest. Kevlar and Spectra fibers are a specialized synthetic, which can be slowly affected by moisture, body salts, ozone and UV radiation.

Lexan, for example, is similarly affected. Lexan is used for “bulletproof” glass, but is degraded by both ozone and UV. Makers of armored cars recommend replacing the glass sometimes as often as yearly, depending on the window’s exposure to the sun. (IE, how often it’s parked indoors, only driven at night, Arizona vs. Washington State, etc.)

Richard Davis, who was instrumental in developing the first “Second Chance” vest many years ago, has run lots of tests. (Besides being another who literally shoots himself in the chest to test his own product. Really!) The fiber strength degrades by as much as 10% within two to three years, depending on use and exposure. That’s enough to drop a Level IIa down to a Level II. And thus enough to strongly recommend replacement.

Climbing safety equipment (slings etc.), which sometimes use the same fibers, should also be replaced periodically depending on use and UV exposure, etc. These synthetic fibers do degrade over time - your life is not worth the savings you get by not replacing the gear periodically.

Quick nit-pick…
Is not a III higher than a IIIA?

On easily penetrating a vest folded over from Don Nickel: I was under the impression that the wearer of a vest provided a lot of the support for the vest; a vest is very flexible and once the initial impact deforms the vest, it is much easier to penetrate the vest from the bending. But if it is backed by something solid like the wearer, it greatly reduces deformation and how easily the bullet can penetrate. An example I was shown was a mechanical pencil (sharpened lead) dropped onto a piece f paper simply held up by someone was easily penetrated, but when backed by a piece of bread, also easily penetrated alone, the paper stopped the mechanical pencil.

Yes it is. Where’s the nit-pick?