One of the longstanding producers of ballistic body armor, AR500 ARMOR® manufacturers a broad line of protective products. It’s Level III+ ASC body armor offers mid-level protection (up to M193 or M80 Ball ammunition) while maintaining the reasonable weight inherent to AR500 ARMOR® steel.
The Level III+ Advanced Shooter’s Cut (ASC) body armor is made from a single cut of 0.26” in-house AR500 ARMOR® steel, hardened to provide a multi-hit, multi-purpose body armor system. Consumers have their choice of plates formed on a continual die (i.e. flat), or curved to match the dimensions of the upper torso and improve comfort. Users also have the option to have the basecoat of protective coating applied that will prevent corrosion, or an optional coating of PAXCON PX-2100 protective coating (developed by Line-X) to capture and prevent fragmentation of the round upon impact.
Each plate of protective armor from AR500 ARMOR® ships with ASC angles, designed to lighten weight, improve flexibility (while worn in conjunction with a plate carrier), and provide maximum protection to vital areas. The side with the deeper cut (selected at the time of purchase) allows the user to fully shoulder a rifle buttstock in the shoulder’s pocket while still protecting the upper torso. The Level III+ ASC plate comes in three sizes; 8”x10”, 10”x12”, and 11”x14”. There are two side panels, and a backpack plate also available in the same material.
The Level III+ ASC plates were initially sent to the Oregon Ballistic Laboratories, one of four scientific testing centers in the United States approved by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). There the armor was given an abbreviated/modified evaluation to meet NIJ 0101.06 Level III+ standards; meaning it is rated up to 7.62mm NATO and other rifle calibers with projectiles at or below 3,000 fps, as per NIJ 0101.06 standards.
The name of AR500 ARMOR® steel refers to its “abrasion resistance” and its 500 Brinell Hardness rating. The Brinell rating is used to rate the hardness of steel and various other materials. The higher the Brinell rating, the harder the steel. Higher Brinell ratings also translate to faster velocities and heavier caliber rounds defeated, without penetrating the plate or going beyond the maximum acceptable indentation or deformation. For AR500 ARMOR® steel, the National Institute of Justice has set a deformation maximum of 44 millimeters. The Level III+ ASC is rated between 504 and 519 on the Brinell Hardness Scale.
While the Level III+ ASC includes the industry standard of a 5-year warranty and a 20-year shelf life, this is standard across a majority of body armor manufactures. Engineers from AR500 ARMOR® maintain that, shy of droppage or extreme environmental conditions, the hardened steel has an infinite shelf life.
Link to NIJ Body Armor Compliant Manufacturers: https://nij.ojp.gov/body-armor-compliance-testing
- See “Find Compliant Armor” and select Ballistic Resistance, Standard-06.
Featured in this review for the Level III+ ASC, was the Rogue plate carrier by Tactical Tailor, but it did not play a factor in the evaluation of the ballistic plates themselves.
Product Evaluation Scores:
- Cost – Excellent (5/5): At $99 – 160 the overall cost per Level III+ ASC 10”x12” plate varies based on the options selected by the user at the time of purchase. This price range covers not only the base plate with no special coating or curvature ($99), to a plate with curvature (an additional $25), or a plate with PAXCON coating (an additional $36) to mitigate spall or fragmentation. For the sample evaluated, AR500 ARMOR® provided a set of flat Level III+ ASC plates with PAXCON. The closest market comparison available would be Spartan Armor Systems AR550 Plates w/Shooters Cut ($107.65 with no curvature and no anti-fragmentation coating). Beyond that, other notable alternatives for Level III+ body armor would be Hesco’s BI200 ($145.99 for a set of two) or DFNDR’s Level III+ Rifle Rated BA ($600 per plate) however both use composite materials in lieu of AR500 ARMOR® steel. Thus, from a price point, AR500 ARMOR® is among some of the most affordable for those entering the market and who would considering AR500 ARMOR® steel as a form of protection.
- Comfort – Average (3/5): The flat variant of the Level III+ ASC plates provided for evaluation did present some discomfort on the center of the chest during stressor drills (pushup/lunges). This was due to the conflict between the natural curvature of the chest, and the flattened surface of the steel. It is strongly encouraged for consumers to consider spending the extra cost and getting a curved plate vice flat. Since this is an option to all manufacturers of AR500 ARMOR® steel protective plates (the curve has to be pressed later after the initial cut), the evaluated plates proved appropriate (or average) comfort for wear, but again consumers should consider getting the curvature option included. While it was not required, it is recommended Level III+ plates be worn in conjunction with either soft body armor plates or trauma pads to mitigate the potential impact to the body from defeated rifle rounds given the higher ballistic velocity levels involved. The weight of the Level III+ ASC steel plates was notable, especially after wearing it in a plate carrier for longer than an hour. The weight pulled on the carrier and on the shoulder straps, so ensure your carrier has sufficient padding in that area as well as a decent cummerbund.
- Durability – Good (4/5): Given that the root material for the Level III+ ASC is still AR500 ARMOR® steel, the durability of the plates went without question. And while that means your carrier and hardware will likely wear out long before the plate or its anti-fragmentation coating, wearers should take care not to drop their plate carriers. The PAXCON (if selected as an additional option) will help ensure some mitigation from impact as well as any potential fragmentation or corrosion, but still care should be taken as it’s entirely possible the plates themselves can still damage other items due to sheer mass.
- Functionality – Good (4/5): The ASC is one of many ballistic products by AR500 ARMOR® that were tested by certified, independent laboratories to meet NIJ 0101.06 standards, and certified as a Level III+, multi-hit ballistic plate. Thus, it will provide protection against some pistol and rifle calibers, at a distance of 50 feet or more (see chart), but not others. There was little in our evaluation process that could deduce anything more that hasn’t already been done to it in a formal laboratory, and under the strictest scientific methods of measurement. AR500 ARMOR®’s product rating is readily found on the NIJ database (link above). A simple search on the internet reveals cheaper ballistic plate alternatives, but these are often ballistic plates that are “pending” NIJ certification. While tested to meet NIJ standards, the single limiting factor in the Level III+ ASC’s functional score is its lacking actual NIJ certification. Doing so would dispel any public perceptions on the quality of the material and where/how it was tested. It is recognized that attaining NIJ certification is a costly and rigid process that locks up manufacturing and innovation, however amongst the market it is the delimiting factor between the ASC and higher rated personal protective equipment. It is also the balance AR500 ARMOR® strikes at manufacturing inexpensive body armor for the public.
- Weight – Average (3/5): Each Level III+ ASC plate weighed approximately 8.5 pounds (each) with variance of an additional 10% increase in weight if the PAXCON coating (up to approximately 10 pounds per plate). The one (and only) downside to AR500 ARMOR®-based ballistic plates is their sheer weight. The Level III+ ASC weight varies depending on the desired cut and coating. At roughly 16-20 pounds for the set, the weight of the ASC plates bared on the carrier/body after a time (1hr+). This weight is consistent to other ballistic plate models of similar design and appeared in research to be the average weight for most ballistic plates of similar material.
Overall Rating – Above Average (19/25)
I am reviewing this product as a courtesy to the manufacturer and via STL Shooting Enthusiasts, so that I can evaluate it and provide my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give positive reviews. All views are my own, and based off my personal experience with the product.
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