What is the Level of Protection Plates for Body Armor - Battle Steel

What is the Level of Protection Plates for Body Armor

     In layman’s terms, body armor is just a bulletproof vest that offers its wearer a protection against ballistic shots. But in truth there is no such thing as universal protection. Bulletproof armors are not made the same. The level of protection plates for body armor determines the stopping capability of the vest and the threats it can withstand against with guarantee. Let’s take a closer look at what is a level of protection of body armor.

Levels of protection. The basics. 

     What is the purpose of having multiple levels of protection? Can’t we just have one armor type that fits all? As a matter of fact, no, we can’t. Indeed, different situations require different protection levels corresponding to the level of the expected threat. Also, the bullet-resistant vest must allow a wearer to perform his or her duties with minimum discomfort. For example, a security officer hardly needs a protection against sniper shots, while mobility is an issue for him. On the other hand, special ops typically oppose heavily armed foes, so they certainly need extra protection even at the cost of agility.

     Overall, the following factors are considered when determining the required level of protection of body armor plates:

  • Primary duty of the wearer of the armor
  • Expected bullet threats
  • Expected need for aiming and shooting by the wearer of the armor
  • Expected need for concealed wearing

     Based on these factors, the National Institute of Justice developed 5 levels of protection for body armor plates. Let’s see them.

What are the levels of protection

     The protection levels are closely related to threat levels set by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). As of today, NIJ Standard-0101.06 describes five protection levels, namely:

  • Level IIA
  • Level II
  • Level IIIA
  • Level III
  • Level IV

     Each of these protection levels is developed so to provide defense against specific type of ammunition with certain degree of confidence based on instrumental and ballistic tests. The following levels of armor plates protection are set by NIJ:

Armor protection level

Protection against bullets

Bullet velocity (ft/s)

I (obsolete)

.22 caliber LR LRN





9 mm FMJ RN

.357 Magnum

.40 S&W FMJ

10 mm FMJTC

.41 Magnum LSWC LFP



9 mm FMJ

.357 Magnum JSP JHP

.44 Magnum SJHP



9 mm FMJ RN

.44 Magnum LSWC

12-gauge rifle slug


.44 Magnum SJHP



7.62 mm NATO FMJ (M80)

.30 Carbine FMJ



.30 Caliber M2 AP


     The level one armor plates are considered obsolete now, so literally ignore every armor that is certified as Type I armor. The rest levels provide protection against corresponding threats. Note that each subsequent protection level also protects against all threats of the lower levels.

     Now, let’s take as close look at every protection type, its pros and cons.

Level IIA body armor plates

     Type IIA body armor is a light type armor. Delivering some minimum protection it is designed for concealed wear by law enforcement officers. The protection granted by a new armor includes such common threats as 9 mm Full Metal Jacket Round Nose and .45 ACP FMJ bullets. A conditioned armor is tested under the NIJ standards with lower bullet speeds. This must be taken into account.


  • Lightweight
  • Designed for concealed wear, suits covert operations
  • Protects against most common threats reported by FBI
  • Suits for full-time wearing


  • Only minimum protection, cannot withstand faster rifle bullets
  • Protection is affected by water
  • Level II body armor plates
  • A heavier version of the previous armor type, level 2 plates for body armor deliver an optimum balance between protection and weight. Such armor plates are guaranteed to withstand shots from higher velocity 9 mm FMJ firearms as well as .40 Smith & Wesson FMJ. Never tested under the NIJ Standard, but also guaranteed is protection against shots of .357 Magnum, which is a common cause of officer homicide in the U.S.


  • Optimum balance of weight, thickness and protection
  • Protects against most common threats (including Type IIA threats)
  • Suits for full-time wearing with maximum protection
  • Suits for concealed wearing


  • Cannot protect against rifle shots
  • Protection degrades in humid conditions

Level IIIA body armor plates

     This armor type is the last among soft armors. Suitable for both concealed and all-time wearing, Level IIIA body armor plates deliver good protection against handgun shot and also some heavier weapons too, like shotguns. This is why Type IIIA armor is often used by police officers, security guards, and the Level IIIA body armor plates can be found not only in armors, but in bulletproof backpacks and business bags too. So when you see some level 3A body armor plates for sale – consider buying it.


  • Serious protection against most handgun threats including .357 SIG FMJ Flat Nose and 12-gauge rifles slugs
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Optimal price-to-quality ratio


  • Relatively thicker than Level II armor plates, which can impede concealed wearing in some situations
  • Cannot protect against high-velocity rifle shots

Level III body armor plates

     One of the two NIJ-certified hard armor types designed to protect a wearer against high-velocity bullets shot from rifles. A vest equipped with level 3 body armor plates can withstand one shot from a rifles. The armor plates of Type III are certified to protect against 7.62 mm NATO FMJ (M80) and .30 Carbine FMJ, for example. Of course, hard armor plates level 3 also defend against lower velocity bullets shot from almost any handgun or shotgun.


  • Excellent protection, including protection from rifles
  • Best for tactical ops
  • Hard armor plates offer good protection against high-velocity bullets and superior protection against shots from handgun weapons


  • Weighs more, and overall is bulkier than soft armors
  • May impede aiming and moving
  • Cannot be concealed under clothes

Level IV body armor plates

     The pinnacle of body armor technologies, the Level 4 body armor plates are constructed to prevent even the most energetic bullets from doing damage to the body of a wearer. Not only do the level 4 armor plates withstand armor piercing rounds from a sniper rifle, but they also provide protection against more common weapons too. At the cost of much higher weight, of course. Not recommended for all-day wear by law enforcement officers, and definitely not an option for casual wearing, the armor plates of NIJ level IV is the number one choice for tactical and anti-terrorism operations.


  • Protects against .30 Caliber M2 Armor Piercing ammo (plus protection against Type IIA-Type III threats)


  • High weight impedes movement and aiming
  • Can only reliably stop one bullet (as opposed to six bullets by the Level III armor plates)
  • High cost
  • Overt wearing only

How to choose the level of body armor protection plates?

     In conclusion, the choice of the armor plates depends on specific goals, situations and assumed type of a threat you can face. Surely, wearing a Level IV body armor is not practical during hunting. While serious tactical operations would certainly require at least Level III armor plates. Correctly estimating the threat level and choosing the body armor plates correctly is a pledge of your safety. Choose wisely, or contact our specialists for a consultation if you cannot decide yourself.


     What is the level of protection granted by various types of body armor plates? Here, we review advantages and disadvantages of each body armor plates, starting from Level IIA armor plates to Level IV armor plates.

This article is the author's opinion and does not represent the official position of BattleSteel®️

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