If you need protection against high-velocity rifle bullets, ceramic plates are one of the most effective options available. However, you may still experience Behind Armor Blunt Trauma (BABT) injuries due to the backface signature. As a result, many individuals wear trauma pads or soft body armor behind the ceramic plate to dampen the blow.
Trauma Pads with Ceramic Armor — Do You Need Them?
Yes, you still need trauma pads with ceramic armor. Ceramic plates are Type III or IV hard armor plates designed to stop high-velocity rifle bullets. If you don’t wear soft body armor behind your ceramic plate, a trauma pad can reduce the risk of blunt-force trauma injuries resulting from ballistic impact.
Body Armor and Trauma Pads
To determine whether you should wear a trauma pad with ceramic body armor, it’s worth discussing the basics of both. That way, you can understand the threats that ceramic plates can stop, what their limitations are, and what trauma pads can do for you.
NIJ Body Armor Testing
In accordance with NIJ Standard 0101.06, the National Institute of Justice conducts a series of tests to determine the ballistic resistance of commercially available hard and soft body armor.
The NIJ subjects both soft and hard body armor to a conditioning process prior to ballistic testing. The purpose of conditioning is to determine whether the armor can continue to demonstrate consistent ballistic performance following exposure to heat, moisture, and wear. Part of conditioning also includes a drop test to ensure adequate impact resistance.
The first test series is the Perforation-Backface Signature (P-BFS). This test determines whether the body armor demonstrates consistent resistance against both bullet perforation and what the NIJ considers excessive blunt-force trauma (i.e., 44 mm). To test the armor, the NIJ places the plate or insert against a clay-based backing material to act as a witness medium and straps it in place. When the armor stops a test bullet, the backface signature will appear on the clay, allowing agency personnel to measure the depth of the deformation.
Rifle Armor Threat Levels
The National Institute of Justice tests and certifies two armor types for protection against rifle threats. These are Type III and Type IV (all listed velocities are ± 30 ft/s):
- Type III (Rifle)
The NIJ tests conditioned Type III hard armor or plate inserts using steel-jacketed 147-gr. 7.62×51mm NATO M80 ball ammunition at a velocity of 2,780 ft/s. In addition to 7.62mm military ball, you can also expect Type III plates to stop commercial .223 Remington and .308 Winchester ammunition, and 7.62×39mm M43 Soviet. Depending on the type of plate, it may also protect against 5.56×45mm NATO M855/SS109.
- Type IV (AP Rifle)
If you expect to face armor-piercing rifle ammunition, the NIJ also certifies armor for protection against this threat. The NIJ tests Type IV hard armor or plate inserts against 166-gr. .30-caliber (.30-06) M2 AP (armor-piercing) ammunition at a velocity of 2,880 ft/s.
What Are Ceramic Plates?
Concealable soft body armor — Type IIA, II, and IIIA — only protects against comparatively low-velocity handgun ammunition (e.g., 9mm Luger and .357 Magnum). If you expect to face rifle threats, Type III or IV armor is needed. Ceramic plates generally fall into the Type III category and consist of SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) and ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert) plates. that you wear inside a plate carrier or pocket.
SAPI and ESAPI plates are composed of silicon carbide and boron carbide ceramic, providing significantly more ballistic protection than Kevlar alone. In addition, ceramic plates are more effective at reducing spalling than steel by capturing the bullet in its entirety. Steel and titanium plates require Kevlar plate carriers and anti-spall liners to prevent bullet fragmentation from seriously wounding the wearer.
Disadvantages of Ceramic Plates
In comparison with steel trauma plates, ceramic plates have a few disadvantages. The first is that ceramic plates, in the process of stopping bullets, are progressively destroyed.
Types of Trauma Pads
Several body-armor manufacturers produce trauma pads for use with their hard plates, including AR500. If you decide that you’d like to wear a trauma pad behind your ballistic vest or hard plate, you have several options at your disposal.
Trauma pads often contain a non-Newtonian fluid or material to absorb and dissipate the kinetic energy that a bullet delivers to the hard plate on impact. In a non-Newtonian fluid, the viscosity changes when stress is applied, becoming more solid or liquid, depending on the material. Non-Newtonian trauma pads generally use a type of foam and tend to be soft, lightweight, and pliable.
You shouldn’t necessarily expect a trauma pad to be reusable. If you are shot while wearing body armor with a trauma pad behind it, the pad may become damaged. If that’s the case, you should discard and replace it.
Should You Wear a Trauma Pad?
When military and law-enforcement personnel, and private citizens, wear Type III/IV hard armor plates, they usually wear a soft ballistic vest behind the plate. The soft body armor increases the overall ballistic protection, ensuring that any bullets that do penetrate the hard plate do not cause penetrating injuries.
In addition, soft armor can reduce the backface signature, as it absorbs some of the kinetic energy transferred by the bullet to your body through the hard plate.
It is becoming increasingly common, however, for individuals to wear a plate carrier without a vest behind it to reduce weight and expense. Hard plates already reduce the backface signature significantly when compared with soft body armor, but there is still a risk of Behind Armor Blunt Trauma (BABT). A low-cost alternative to wearing a soft vest or insert behind the hard plate is a trauma pad — a non-ballistic panel that absorbs kinetic energy.
While a trauma pad will not eliminate the risk of BABT-related injuries, it can reduce the severity and pain associated with being hit by a bullet.
If you do decide to wear a trauma pad, select a size that corresponds to the hard plate. Body-armor manufacturers usually offer trauma pads in the same sizes as their steel or ceramic plates.
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