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Old November 09, 2011, 11:47   #1
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Body Armor: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly UPDATED 3-12-2019

PAGE AND SITE UPDATED 3-12-2019. IT HAD BEEN AWHILE!

Ok, lots of folks have requested I repost this here, so here ya go. It is an overview of body armor MATERIALS, rather than specific manufacturers. I have been designing and building armor for more than 17 years, so have a fair amount of experience creating and destroying all sorts of bullet stopping goodies. I will add to this as needed, and as people request. If you have any questions, please let me know. If I don't have the answer, I will tell you so, and see if I can get it for you. I am not the ultimate expert on this, just have a strong fondness (my wife calls it something else) for armor.

If you are interested in even more details, review, tests, etc, check out my site at: http://www/drmorgear.com

Just some recommendations (and this goes for any armor you buy, new or used):

Avoid Spectrashield, Spectra woven, or Dyneema: This material is based on polyethylene, the same stuff that milk jugs are made of. The armor version is referred to as Ultra High Molecular Weight Poly-Ethylene (UHMWPE). In situations where it gets hot (and most car trunks in the summer can get HOT), it will denature, reverting back to simple milk jug plastic. Armoring FAIL. I used to be a fan of this stuff until I read some great info by Kevin "Mad Dog" Mclung and Doctor Roberts ("DocGKR"), two names that you should look up and listen to. They did some eye opening tests (especially Mad Dog) on the dangers of Spectra. If the material goes over 180 F, it becomes a danger to its wearer.

Avoid Laminates: Something else both of these gentlemen strongly advise against. Laminated armor materials have huge drawbacks (Spectra laminates more so). They suck against contact shots (the muzzle blast literally melts them, allowing rounds to go right through), they delaminate with wear, they don't breathe (try wrapping yourself in saran wrap- that's how comfy they are), and they don't have anywhere near the shelf life of woven kevlar (which is practically immortal as far as I have seen). Steer clear of laminates:

Spectrashield contact shot- massive penetration:
http://www.itstactical.com/wp-conten...pb-150x150.jpg

Spectrashield vs. Woven Kevlar BALCS panels contact shots- Spectrashield, massive penetration, with one shot .44 Mag, Woven Kevlar took 9 rounds before penetration:
http://www.itstactical.com/wp-conten...ct-150x150.jpg

Spectrashield contact shot- massive penetration
http://www.itstactical.com/wp-conten...it-150x150.jpg

Woven Kevlar Contact Shot- No penetration:
http://www.itstactical.com/wp-conten...it-150x150.jpg

PHOTOS COURTESY ITS TACTICAL

AVOID ZYLON: For the love of everything that is holy. There was an amendment passed in congress outlawing this stuff for pete's sake. It was supposed to be the next great armor material, and lots of manufacturers jumped on it. Trouble is, combine heat with humidity (um, your body?) and the material degraded rapidly. This lead directly to the deaths of at least two police officers, and Zylon was (after much foot dragging) pulled. Don't ever use it.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN SURPLUS ARMOR TO AVOID THE ZYLON BLUES:

POINT BLANK FUSION (ZYLON AND SPECTRASHIELD)http://www.us-elitegear.com/fusion.htm
Z-SHIELD (A ZYLON LAMINATE, YECCCH!)
Z-FLEX (SAME AS ABOVE)
THERE ARE MORE, BUT THIS IS A START.

If the label does not say, and the seller cannot/will not swear to it, assume any surplus armor contains laminates, Zylon, or both. Zylon containing vests were universally deep-sixed after the Berry Amendment, and could be rooted out of dumpsters. These are appearing on Fleabay and forums (Currently there are Zylon containing vests in the Equipment Exchange), being sold to unsuspecting buyers. ASK, ASK, ASK, and if you get a song and dance, walk away. Your life is much too precious to risk anything but woven Kevlar.

Pretty muchly that leaves woven aramid as the last man standing. This stuff is, as always, a great material. It is tough, fireproof (it will char but not melt at above 700 F) and will retain most of its ballistic effectiveness even after reaching this temp. Being woven, it breathes better. Contact shots have a much harder time getting through. It lasts virtually forever- the 5-7 year warranty is not there to tell you when it goes bad. Nominally, it is just there as a CYA measure by the companies to limit liability. In one test, it was actually shown that older vests did BETTER than new vests at stopping rounds. Weird, I know. Here are two references:

“NIJ tests failed to demonstrate any significant differences in 10-year-old armor, regardless of the extent of use or apparent physical condition”

“The warranty exists solely to limit the manufacturer's liability on the product and is not a reflection of the anticipated service life of the product.”

...Guide to Police Body Armor, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC)

You can also find an abstract here:

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digi...11390NCJRS.pdf

So kevlar, kevlar, kevlar. Woven, not laminated.

Regarding plates, Doc is on the right track. Rifle armor is important, as soft armor is completely useless against rifle rounds. M193 will go through about 120-140 layers of soft armor with enough zip left to seriously ruin your weekend. Believe me, I have checked.

Jpanzer- Just to reiterate, soft armor cannot be level III. Max rating is IIIA. And don't assume, get the specs, or better yet, test it yourself!

Rifle armor is rated either level III or IV. Now, the interesting thing is, the higher rating is not necessarily better. If you expect to be facing enemies with AP capability, the IV is nice to have (the spec calls for the plate to stop ONE round of .30-06 M2 AP black tip. One round). If you are expecting normal mild steel or lead cored, go with III by all means. The spec for III calls for stopping 6 rounds of M80 .308 ball @ 2750FPS within a 6" circle. So much better multi hit. Always read the specs!

Then there is the question whether the plate is designed to stand alone, or be worn with soft armor behind it ("In Conjunction With"). The stand alone plates tend to be heavier, as they typically have much thicker backings. This is nice if you are wearing just the plates and nothing else, but usually you have some sort of soft armor on, so the ICW are usually a better bet. Plus, just me, I like having extra padding. But if (like Doc Jarhead mentions) you like mobility, then stand alones might be for you.

Materials for rifle armor usually focus on hard stuff- soft armor defeats pistol rounds by catching, slowing, and deforming them. They are low velocity (relatively) with a fairly large frontal area. Rifle rounds are fast, with a small, pointed frontal area. The defeat mechanism is yawing, deforming, eroding, shattering, and frictive braking (the last one is unusual).

Steel- Tried and true, this material is great for stopping rounds (millions of steel targets can't all be wrong). It stops by deforming rounds. It can keep stopping them as long as the structure is uncompromised. Heat and mistreatment do not affect it. Drawbacks- it is heavy for its protective levels, it can rust if you chip the paint, and it spalls. What is spall? Well, it is the reason most steel target manufacturers recommend being 50-100 yards from the target. When a round hits, it splashes little bits of copper and lead in a cone at an angle. If you are wearing one of these plates, that high velocity splash can end up in your throat and face. Make sure if you run steel plates you wear spall guards in FRONT of the plates. Just a few layers of kevlar are all that is needed. One final drawback to steel plates- certain high velocity threats can penetrate it. A few years back, there was a dustup over a certain manufacturers plates not stopping M193 @ above 3000 fps (but remember, M193 is not in the spec!). So do your homework.

UPDATE 5-28-2015- A company called Armor Wear has just released steel plates made with Ultra-Hard Steel ("UHS") which WILL stop M193 at 3000fps and above. I now consider this material best practices, with Mil HHS the bare minimum.

****Material choices: BEST is UHS (Ultra-Hard Steel/AR680) next best is Mil-Spec HHS (High Hardness Steel), offered by Armor-Wear and Maingun Surplus respectively****

AR500 (Abrasion Resistant, 500 Brinell Hardness) IS NO LONGER RECOMMENDED!

*UPDATED 5-28-2015*

A quick and dirty rule of thumb for stopping the M193 threat with steel plate: 500 bhn (Brinell Hardness) needs to be 10mm thick at 3100 fps to stop M193, 600 bhn needs to be 6mm, and at 58-63 Rc (Rockwell C), the plate can be made 4.5mm thick.

Titanium- Ahhh, Titanium. The very word brings to mind a supermetal that can do everything. More misconceptions surround this metal than just about any other. While true, it does make superior armor in some regards, it is not a panacea. Ti has been used for several decades in the construction of advanced airframes (the A-12 was over 60% Ti, a strategic metal mostly found in Russia...). Its claims to fame are: lightweight (60% the weight of steel @ comparable strengths) and corrosion resistance. It is virtually impervious to corrosion (ironically, because it oxidizes so quickly, forming a tough layer of TiO2). It cannot be hardened appreciably above the high 40s low 50s Rockwell C, and even that requires exotic precipitation hardening Beta alloys. The most common alloy in use is referred to as 6-4, which is short for 6Al4V (6 points of Aluminum and 4 points of Vanadium). Ti is a fairly tough metal, which makes it a good choice for armor plates for AFVs and APCs in thick section (I don't have the TE numbers compared to RHA in front of me right now, but they are pretty good). In soft armor vests, Ti plates are sought after as trauma plates vs. steel because they are lighter and do not rust. In sufficient thickness (2-3mm) they will stop all handgun rounds, up to and including some AP like the steel cored Tok rounds that play merry hob with most soft armor.
For rifle armor, Ti falls short- it is not hard enough to shatter high velocity rifle rounds (see above re: hardness). This is where the TE (thickness equivalency) comes into play. Ti can stop rifle rounds, even larger caliber cannon fire, but in thicknesses and weights that are prohibitive to us groundpounders. My research has shown M80 will be stopped by a 14mm thick plate of 6-4 backed by 4mm of Aramid. Most steel plates are between 4.5mm and 6mm depending on backing. There have been some hybrid steel/Ti plates, but at that point, you might as well just go all steel. Choose the right material for the job- for pistol rounds, Ti is a champ. For rifles, look elsewhere.

Ceramic- This material encompasses several types of ceramic. The most common is Alumina, also known as Aluminum Oxide or Al2O3. It is very hard (upwards of 9 on the Moh's hardness scale), fairly light, inert, and not TOO expensive. It stops projectiles by erosion, shattering, and yawing. It is almost never used alone, relying on a backing to keep the high velocity rubble and projectile fragments from continuing into your body cavity. It is great against lots of rifle rounds, and can be made proof against some AP rounds. It is insensitive to heat and water. Drawbacks- more expensive than steel, can be sensitive to mishandling (think cracked plates if you toss them in your gear bag). Other ceramics include Silicon Carbide and Boron Carbide (more expensive and VERY expensive respectively). These are lighter and harder materials, and can stop the very highest of threats (tungsten carbide cored AP for instance). Most level IV plates are B4C.

Spectra- Wait, didn't I just say don't use this? Yes, yes I did. I am including this here for information purposes, and also because it is a gray area. Spectra in hard armor is not as HUGE a danger as soft armor (this from DocGKR) because of the amount of heat required to get it isothermic (the same temp throughout). So, if you have Spectra hardplates, there you go. Standalone Spectra plates can stop rifle rounds with enough layers. It stops rounds via frictive braking (think of bullet brake). However, be advised there are some rounds that will penetrate UHMWPE plates, such as M855 green tip. So again, do your homework. AN EXAMPLE IS FOUND HERE:

http://www.m4carbine.net/archive/index.php/t-32839.html

GREEN TIP M855 IS NOT IN THE SPEC FOR LEVEL III, SO DON'T ASSUME.

The Future/New Advances- Current research is focused on several different threads. In the area of soft armor, the Next Big Thing(tm) looks to be Magellan (Now Dupont) M5 fiber. A fiber discovered in the late 90's, this material has been under development for the last 12 years. Preliminary tests have shown it to be superior to Kevlar in nearly every category- tensile strength, durability, fire resistance (it is the most fire resistant fabric ever designed). On a per unit volume basis, it would allow for a 60% reduction in armor weight for the same protection level as Kevlar KM2! The material is a light blue color, and has not been made widely available due to continuing engineering difficulties. Spinnerets that are used for processing Kevlar filaments are not strong enough for this fiber, and will break under the strain! This has required a redesign of the manufacturing processes, which = delays.


I hope this has been helpful- armor is one of those things that should be in everyone's kit bag. Please IM or email me if you have any further questions. I will do my best to answer them.

If you are looking for a good source for specific armor and gear, I recommend my updated Recommended Armor and Gear Database:

https://drmorgear.wordpress.com/reco...rmor-database/


Stab and cut resistant armor-

It is far past time to include information on stab and cut resistant armor. This will incorporate all current options.

****CUT AND STAB ARMOR******

Ballistic armor is designed to stop high velocity projectiles, while cut/stab armor is designed to stop very slow, sharp and pointed objects from cutting/piercing the wearer's skin.

This type of armor is a continuation of the most ancient forms of personal armor, which has seen the use of bone, fabric, leather, and finally metal. It is interesting that the current state of technology has returned to the use of fabric as the primary defense against thrusting and cutting implements.

As it has been for millennia, there are always trade-offs in terms of protection vs. weight/concealability. The most protective suits, while they can be made with extremely good ergonomics, will tend to be hotter, heavier, and far from low-profile. Semi-rigid and rigid armors, which include forms of metal mesh (traditional "maille"), interlocking articulated plates (metal or metal/composite), lamellar, or solid plates are very efficient at stopping cuts and thrusts. Their weight and heat burden tend to be fairly high. Materials range from stainless steel, titanium, to rigid para-aramid (Kevlar/Twaron).

Fabric materials are currently used in the majority of concealable stab/cut vests. These include the familiar materials Kevlar, Twaron, and Spectra. As before, UHMWPE laminates should be eschewed, even though they may provide better numbers in terms of weight. The known weaknesses of this material outweigh any benefits. Generally, the Para-Aramids are woven, similar to their ballistic counterparts, but are much tighter weave. This is to prevent spikes from pushing the fibers aside. The number of layers is directly proportional to the protection levels, which are rated in a similar way to ballistic standards. They are:

KR1/SP1 (Knife Resistant Level I/Spike Protection Level I) - Lowest level, resists knife thrusts and spike stabs at 24J up to 36J
KR2/SP2 (Knife Resistant Level II/Spike Protection Level II) Medium level, resists knife thrusts and spike stabs at 33J up to 50J
KR3/SP3 (Knife Resistant Level III/Spike Protection Level III) High Level, resists knife thrusts and spike stabs at 43J up to 65J

Level I armor is generally the best choice if wearing for long periods and/or concealed. Level II is a good compromise between concealability and protection. Level III is for short periods of time, and is not generally concealable.

The test protocol involves dropping a weighted sabot with the test blade or spike onto the armor sample. Up to 7mm of penetration is allowed at the minimum force, and up to 20mm at the maximum force. Any greater penetration will fail the armor. There is no penetration permitted for the spike test. A single sample armor may be subjected to over 30 drops, with no overpenetration permitted.

I am sure a lot of folks are wondering about how well knife/stab armor performs against bullets. The answer is "not as well as a dedicated ballistic vest." K/S armor is engineered towards a very different threat compared to handgun rounds. Knives, spikes, and syringes have a very small frontal area compared with handgun bullets, and as such, require different materials and construction methods to be used. There are dual and triple rated vests (ballistic + knife and ballistic + knife + spike), but they are generally VERY expensive, and heavier/thicker than dedicated armors. If you absolutely have to protect against multiple threat types, try to wear before purchasing to ensure it is comfortable.

Last edited by 009.5; March 12, 2019 at 16:34. Reason: UPDATED ENTIRE PAGE
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Old November 09, 2011, 21:20   #2
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Thanks for taking the time to post that!

I have soft armor and am thinking of upgrading-your write up is very helpful.
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Old November 10, 2011, 01:20   #3
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Good sticky???

Good person to deal with also.
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Old November 10, 2011, 11:21   #4
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Very nice information. I usually don't read long posts but this was so full of good info I couldn't stop.
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Old November 13, 2011, 16:00   #5
009.5
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Thanks gents, my pleasure. Here is a link to the info DocGKR found regarding laminates vs. woven kevlar:

http://www.itstactical.com/gearcom/b...ft-body-armor/
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Old November 13, 2011, 23:34   #6
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Quote:
Good sticky???
I'll second that. Very informative and easy to read and comprehend.
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Old November 14, 2011, 19:02   #7
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Wish this was here in 07 when I spent 600 buccks on 3 zylon vests for me and my family. Armor is hard to come by here in ct. Has to be ftf transaction by law.

Still have the vests. Can't morally sell them. Figure its better than a tshirt till I get sumthin better.
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Old November 17, 2011, 23:23   #8
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Current recommendations UPDATED 2-27-14!

Helmet: MSA Gallet TC-2001 ARAMID

Rifle Plates:

1# Armored Mobility Hybrid Level III

2# MIDWEST ARMOR LEVEL IV TRIPLE CURVE- PENDING FULL REVIEW

3# TAP GAMMA Level III DOUBLE/TRIPLE CURVE

Last edited by 009.5; February 27, 2014 at 19:43.
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Old December 01, 2011, 13:56   #9
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Care of woven Kevlar- Since this has come up a lot, here are my recommendations:

The enemies of woven Kevlar are two- sun exposure (strong, chronic exposure to UV light) and bacteria/fungus. The best way to protect against the former is don't go sunning in your bare armor panels. Keep them inside the carrier, or at the very least in their protective fabric outer sheath. For the latter, every once in a while, soak the armor panels in a weak solution of baking soda. This will kill the fungus, and neutralize any acids produced by sweat eating bacteria. You can then follow up with a very mild dish soap solution, then rinse again and let dry. This will keep your armor practically immortal. DO NOT put your armor in the dryer, and DO NOT use harsh chemical cleaners on it. Just baking soda and a little dish/bar soap is all you need.

HTH

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Old December 20, 2012, 22:03   #10
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New info to be added...
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Old December 21, 2012, 08:13   #11
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Sticky is a great idea for this.
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Old March 11, 2013, 12:26   #12
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Updates: After several false starts, soft armor utilizing carbon nanotubes is becoming commercially available. With tensile strengths on the order of 100 or more times that of current body armor fabrics, this material could be even more of a step up from Aramids as Aramids were from Silk and Ballistic Nylon.
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Old March 11, 2013, 17:46   #13
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My own preferrred Body Armor, to place between my Invaluable Hide and Hostile Fire, would be a Body Of Water....Say the Pacific Ocean, for instance....
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Old March 12, 2013, 13:11   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 009.5 View Post
Updates: After several false starts, soft armor utilizing carbon nanotubes is becoming commercially available. With tensile strengths on the order of 100 or more times that of current body armor fabrics, this material could be even more of a step up from Aramids as Aramids were from Silk and Ballistic Nylon.
Any companies you can recommend that are producing vests with carbon nanotube technology? Has any testing been done you are aware of? Wondering if the back deflection is less with this material.
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Old March 01, 2014, 01:06   #15
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Originally Posted by 009.5 View Post
...Rifle armor is rated either level III or IV. Now, the interesting thing is, the higher rating is not necessarily better. If you expect to be facing enemies with AP capability, the IV is nice to have (the spec calls for the plate to stop ONE round of .30-06 M2 AP black tip. One round). If you are expecting normal mild steel or lead cored, go with III by all means. The spec for III calls for stopping 6 rounds of M80 .308 ball @ 2750FPS within a 6" circle. So much better multi hit. Always read the specs! ...
I agree that you should always read the specs...

As I remember it, the milspec for ESAPI plates calls for defeating three rounds of .30CAL M2 AP (which is slightly different than the NIJ level IV rating, of course)...

Thanks for posting all the interesting info...

Forrest
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Old March 01, 2014, 12:31   #16
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Originally Posted by ftierson View Post
I agree that you should always read the specs...

As I remember it, the milspec for ESAPI plates calls for defeating three rounds of .30CAL M2 AP (which is slightly different than the NIJ level IV rating, of course)...

Thanks for posting all the interesting info...

Forrest
Gold star!

MIL and NIJ tests are different, and I will be publishing a post on the various differences between all past and current test standards and methodologies soon.

Thank you for the kind words.
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Old March 01, 2014, 13:51   #17
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The Blue Line plates showed up, they are 2005 MFG dated - look like N.O.S. - I found some concern on the web that because of the age of the plates the glue holding the strike face to the underlying composite might have degraded to the point that when you shoot one of these plates they delaminate - assuming they are in a good carrier they should hold together and be good for a few hits depending but I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this.
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Old March 01, 2014, 19:13   #18
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The Blue Line plates showed up, they are 2005 MFG dated - look like N.O.S. - I found some concern on the web that because of the age of the plates the glue holding the strike face to the underlying composite might have degraded to the point that when you shoot one of these plates they delaminate - assuming they are in a good carrier they should hold together and be good for a few hits depending but I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on this.
Gates, thanks for the update and concerns.

This is worthy of a post all on its own. I recall a paper written in IJIE discussing greater efficacy in armor systems where the elements were weakly adhered vs. strongly adhered (cover face, hardface element, backing element). My own testing has shown this to be valid.

The mechanism was not well understood, but I think it may have something to do with a micro version of the air-gap effect, and decoupling of the transmitted shocks through the different materials. As long as the strike face is structurally sound, my OPINION is that you should be fine. I will try to find the link to the paper referenced above and send it to you, if you are interested.
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Old March 02, 2014, 03:34   #19
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Any combo armor out there that resists ballistic and cut/stab threats pretty well. From what you wrote, I'd assume that you might be able to find NIJ II or IIIa KR1/SP1 and III or IV that may be KR/SP2 or KR/SP3 because of bulk issues.

Can you layer the lower-level soft cut/stab over lower grade (soft) ballistic armors and bump up the protection of the latter a notch if the combination of the two kinds of protection are not easily found together? I'm wondering from both a technical and a practical standpoint the feasibility of layering regarding bulk and comfort and temperature regulation.
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