Hard Armor Options for Facing Today’s Higher Threat Levels

Do you know your armor plate protection choices when it comes to an active shooter incident or other operation that might involve rounds that soft armor isn’t rated to stop? HighCom Armor offers a full line of military and law enforcement grade Level III, and Level IV plates, and Special Threat.

The hard armor plates that fit inside front and back pockets in armor carriers offer protection against rifle rounds, and some protect against armor-piercing rounds. Armor plates are available in two different types that are recognized by the NIJ.

  • Level 3 plates are rated to stop rifle rounds.
  • Level 4 plates are rated to stop armor-piercing rounds.

The choice of whether to select type 3 or type 4 protection is partly based on what that plate will be made out of and the level of threat you’re subjected to.

Let’s consider three types of hard plates; Steel, Polyethylene, and Ceramic, all of which are available from HighCom Armor.



Steel is a popular option that has been commercially used since World War II. When up against high powered ammunition, steel doesn’t disappoint. It stops many types of projectiles and rounds. Steel plates rely on their hardness to cause the impacting round to mushroom, fracture, and subsequently splatter upon impact.

Though steel is strong and offers a great deal of protection, steel plates can create spall, the fragments created from a bullet when it explodes upon impacting the hard steel plate. Spalling can result in secondary fragmentation injuries.

Steel, with a weight of 8 to 10 pounds, is also heavier than both polyethylene and ceramic plates. However, it is the least expensive of the three. HighCom manufactures Guardian AR500 and Guardian AR1000  the only NIJ 0101.06 certified steel plates that are DEA compliant! The AR1000 is also 20% lighter than competitive models on the market today, a 10″ x 12″ shooters cut weighs under 6 lbs.

We coat our steel plates with military-grade Rhino Extreme 11-50 anti-spall coating to dramatically reduce spall fragments from ballistic impact. Operators can choose the thickness of the anti-spall liner ranging from 20 to 80 mil. Additionally, the plate can be inserted in our Guardian Rifle Insert Spall Sleeve for added frag protection.


Polyethylene (also called PE) is a thermoplastic. Polyethylene armor is manufactured by bonding unidirectional UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene) fibers over an HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) sheet. The sheets are cut to shape, placed in a mold, and compressed under high heat and pressure resulting in a cohesive hard armor plate.

Polyethylene plates take advantage of the friction caused by the spin of a bullet. This friction melts the polyethylene and in turn ‘sticks’ the bullet. Once stopped, the polyethylene cools down and re-hardens.

You can typically hit Polyethylene with as many bullets as you can fit on the plate because it doesn’t impact a very large surrounding area when the bullet hits. However, the quality of raw material and the process used for bonding will play a significant role in the back face deformation and the ability of the plate to withstand multiple rounds without delaminating.

Polyethylene plates weigh between 2 to 5 pounds, making them lighter than steel and up to 70% lighter than ceramic plates. The tradeoff, however, is that it’s currently not possible with available materials and processes to create a type IV level plate on a commercial basis, meaning it is not rated to stop armor-piercing rounds. Polyethylene plates are also around 200%-300% more costly than ceramic. HighCom Armor manufactures multiple Level III PE plate solutions.


When a projectile hits a ceramic plate, there is localized fracturing of the ceramic, causing the projectile to dump massive amounts of its energy. The ceramic breaks up the bullet, and then the fragments are caught with backing materials like Kevlar.

One tradeoff of ceramic plates is that they are unlikely to stop a bullet if they are hit more than once on the same spot. A 7.62 mm round, for example, can damage up to three inches of space on a ceramic plate. Because a ceramic plate breaks upon impact, the area that breaks is vulnerable to additional rounds in the same spot. There are circumstances depending on the ceramic capability and backing materials where it may still have the ability in close proximity to defeat multiple rounds.

These days, ceramic plates are far lighter and stronger than previously manufactured versions because of the materials used to create them. Weighing between 4 to 8 pounds for a 10″ x 12″, ceramic plates may be lighter than steel, but heavier than Polyethylene. Still, given the same level of protection (for example, Level III), a ceramic plate will likely be thinner and less costly than a polyethylene plate.

Here, Sensible Prepper Presents: Shooting Body Armor Level lll Plates. Testing both ceramic and AR500 steel panels with various rifle calibers using multiple hits and examining the results.


HighCom Armor offers a full line of military and law enforcement grade Special Threat, Level III, and Level IV plates. When considering the purchase of hard armor to go up against high-velocity rifle threats, consider HighCom’s Guardian series. Guardian armor is some of the best performing armor in its class and offers the military and law enforcement incredibly effective and affordable armor options.



Want to learn more?

Contact us today to learn more about the Guardian Armor or check out our latest armor testing videos to see us in action.

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