Level IV Body Armor – How it’s made, and what it stops

When you’re depending on body armor to keep you alive, you should understand what it’s capable of!

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) says that level IV body armor will be able to stop a 166 gr .30 caliber Armor Piercing round at speeds of 2880 per second. Level IV armor and plate inserts tested with soft armor must be labeled as only providing level IV protection when paired together.

Level IV body armor takes a step up from level III body armor by adding more protection. It consists of hard armor or a combination of both hard and soft armor which makes it capable of providing protection from most rifle rounds used in warzones across the world.

What Does Level IV Body Armor Protect Against?

The NIJ requires level IV armor to stop up to a .30 caliber Armor Piercing round moving 2880 ft/sec. This means that it is capable of stopping almost any rifle round out there short of extremely large caliber weapons.

Level IV armor is capable of defeating most rifle rounds .30 caliber and smaller.

Body Armor Level Effective Against These Calibers
III .308 Winchester Full Metal Jacket = 7.62 X 51 mm NATO rounds at ~ 2,750 fps
IV 30-06 Armor-Piercing .30 M2 AP One round at ~ 2,850 fps

What Is Level IV Body Armor Designed For?

Level IV body armor hard armor that is designed to stop most common rifle calibers.

Level IV armor is worn in an external carrier since its usually worn by front line troops and special tactics teams from various agencies and police forces. Level IV armor can be carried in a backpack or briefcase but it’s usually much too heavy to make it worthwhile.

Most companies offering level IV body armor sell plates made from different types of materials and different capabilities. These include steel, composite materials, ceramic and ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). Each comes with upsides and downsides that we’ll discuss later.

When you’re choosing body armor, you have to understand the threats that you’re most likely to encounter. With level IV body armor, you’re getting the most protection you can get. Level IV armor is typically worn by soldiers and police that need the most protection they can get regardless of the weight.

AR 500 Armor and Spartan Armor Systems both sell high-quality body armor of all types.

Does Level IV Body Armor Protect Against Anything Other than Bullets?

Level IV body armor isn’t specifically designed to protect against anything other than what it is tested against. It does, however, offer some protection against fragmentation from IEDs and other explosive devices as well as slashing and piercing weapons.

It’s just too think and hard for these weapons to have any effect on the wearer.

How Does Level IV Body Armor Work?

Just like level III body armor, level IV body armor functions in different ways depending on the materials that it’s constructed from.

Steel portions of the armor plate are there to stop the projectile after it’s been slowed by other composite materials. I don’t know of any all-steel level IV plates.

Ceramic level IV body armor plates are made with non-metallic materials that are very hard. These plates reduce the energy and penetrating ability of the bullet stop projectiles by deforming it as it passes through the ceramic material.

Ceramic plates are much more delicate than those with steel or UHMWPE materials added. They also have poor multi-strike performance. Manufacturers attempt to counter this by backing the ceramic plates with metal, or other ballistic materials.

UHMWPE consists of sheets of polymer and polymer strands compressed together to form dense plates. The polymer slows and deforms the bullet as it passes through the plate.

What Is Level IV Body Armor Made Of?

Manufacturers that use steel in their level IV body armor use modern metallurgy techniques to create uniform and very dense steel plates for their armor. These steels ensure that the plate will react the same when it’s struck by a bullet no matter where it is hit.

Unlike level III body armor, level IV armor will almost always have a ceramic or other composite material as the main part of the plate. This eliminates the need for any other kind of spall protection.

The non-metallic materials used in ceramic level IV body armor is extremely strong. Some of the most common materials used in making ceramic armor is boron carbide and other materials like it.

UHMWPE used in level IV armor is made with layers of polyurethane sheets and fibers pressed together under heat and high pressure. These materials are used in conjunction with ceramics to achieve the level IV protection and to add multistrike performance to ceramic materials.

UHMWPE armor does very well against multiple strikes and is more durable than ceramic plates. The downside is it should not be stored in high heat (like a car sitting in the sun) and can melt if it comes in contact with flames. With level IV armor this usually isn’t a problem as the material is used in conjunction with other composite materials.

Is Level IV Body Armor Legal?

This is where I need to give the obligatory disclaimer…I’m not a lawyer so only use this section as a guide. It is not legal advice.

Level IV Body Armor Legality in the United States: In the United States it is illegal to possess body armor if you are a convicted felon. In Connecticut, it is illegal to ship body armor meaning that all sales must be made face to face. Many other states have made it a felony to commit a violent crime while wearing body armor. Others have made it illegal to wear body armor on school grounds. Check your local laws to be sure!

There has been some talk among politicians in the U.S. about making body armor illegal.

Level IV Body Armor Legality in Canada: In Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia a license is required to possess body armor. In the remaining provinces, there are no restrictions.

Level IV Body Armor Legality in the UK: In the United Kingdom, there are currently no legal restrictions on the purchase and ownership of body armor.

Level IV Body Armor Legality in Australia: In Australia, it is illegal to possess body armor without proper authorization in South Australia, Victoria, Northern Territory, ACT, Queensland, and New South Wales.

How do You Choose What Type of Armor you Should Buy?

When trying to determine what type of body armor you need, you should consider the following questions:

  • Are you going to be facing pistol fire or rifle fire?
  • Do you need knife or spike protection?
  • Is it okay if others know that you’re wearing body armor?

Level IV armor doesn’t come in the wide range of materials that you can find level III armor in so the question really comes down to if you need level IV protection and if you want to pay the price that comes along with the extra protection.

Related Questions

What is hard body armor? Level IV and hard body armor often refer to the same thing. When someone is discussing hard body armor they mean armor that doesn’t flex. Level III and IV body armors are considered hard body armor. Some level IIIA armor is made as hard body armor as well.

Does level IV body armor expire? The shelf life of body armor is going to depend on the materials used to make it and the manufacturer. For the most part, level IV armor is considered to be good for around 5 years due to the materials common in its construction.

How much does level 4 body armor weigh? How much level IV body armor weighs is going to depend on the size of the armor plate and the manufacturer. Level IV body armor is usually around 8.5 lbs per front and backplate.

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