Body Armor - The Case for Concealable Rifle Plates
Rifle rated armor systems in their modern form have existed since the 1960's but discussions about the use of such armor outside of the obvious are rare. With that in mind this article is about making the case for an often overlooked concept for the employment of rifle rated armor - as a realistically concealable armor solution.
Rifle rated armor is in use by military, law enforcement, and private/civilian users across the world but is typically only seen in use in an overt manner - generally thicker plates in overt load-bearing armor carriers. But it is possible to conceal rifle plates and there are multiple scenarios, particularly encountered by law enforcement or civilians, in which a concealable rifle rated armor solution would be highly beneficial.
For example, let's take a look at two broad uses for concealable rifle plates:
Use 1: In a law enforcement setting concealable rifle plates could easily find a place amongst undercover or plain clothes officers. These officers are not necessarily less likely to encounter rifle threats and may find the addition of a set of concealable rifle rated armor to their kit extremely valuable for certain high risk assignments where rifle threats are prevalent.
Use 2: Civilian owners of armor. I am an advocate of the idea that in the vast majority of scenarios for civilian use of rifle rated armor it would be best for it to be concealable. Urban shutdowns due to calamity, high threat scenarios where law enforcement is tied down or not immediately available, and similar situations are the ones in mind here. As a civilian you have no recognition as a non-threat to law enforcement (keep in mind that even plain clothes police officers have been shot by other officers in gun fights, having been mistaken for a threat) or to the other people around you. Overt armor will serve, in most cases, to draw unwanted attention your way.
The point of this is that concealable armor and stopping rifle threats are NOT mutually exclusive traits. You CAN have both.
The setup -
The ideal concealment setup for rifle armor should look much like the photo above - a totally slick carrier with minimalist construction and low-profile armor plates. Examples of such slick carriers are the pictured Extreme Concealment Carrier by Beez Combat Systems, the Slick by First Spear, or the Slick Plate Carrier by Ferro Concepts. These carriers do not have MOLLE webbing or any extraneous features that would make concealment difficult. They are the ultimate in minimal plate carrier design, and that is exactly the desired style of carrier for this purpose.
In regards to plates, multi-curve is, in my personal opinion, a must. It may be possible to conceal single curve plates, but it isn't something I would choose to attempt and single curve plates will be at a minimum more difficult to conceal as they don't follow the bodies profile, meaning they're likely to stick out - particularly at the top and bottom.
Thickness is a critical factor. I would not recommend trying to conceal plates thicker than .65" inches and would target plates .55" thick or thinner for this use. That said there are multiple options in this category, most being in the category of Special Threat plates as the lack of a rating for larger cartridges such as .308 Winchester allows for the plates to be thinner. Such plates include the TenCate 2000SA, Hesco U210, Velocity Systems API-BZ, and a few others. All of these options measure around .55" in thickness and are multi-curve. They all stop common 7.62x39 and 5.56 threats, including M855.
When such plates are paired with a slick carrier like the ones mentioned above you have an easily concealable and fairly light weight rifle rated armor solution that stops a wide range of common threats.
Below is a photo of yours truly wearing the above pictured Beez carrier with a set of 8"x10" TenCate 2000SA armor plates inserted. For reference the pictured individual, me, is about 5' 9", 145 pounds. Weight and body shape will play into the concealability of rifle armor and as such must be taken into consideration.
Below, the plates and carrier and easily concealed under a standard (and properly fitted, not oversized) black colored Hot Weather Combat Coat. This is a single layer coat, with no batting or multiple fabric layers. No plate or carrier printing is visible in this position.
Below is the view from the back. Again, no carrier or plate printing is seen but there is a slight "overhang effect" due to the coat hanging off the protruding back plate.
The views below are contorted body positions, showing what happens when the wearer is in a position other than upright. The hunched position in particular results in noticeable printing - a watchful person would likely take notice of this but typical passersby on your average street would probably glaze over such details.
Clothing should be chosen accordingly for the amount of exposure and movement of the wearer in the given scenario.
The next set of photos are the same other than the coat has been replaced with a black M65 Field Jacket, a double layer jacket with no built in batting. The jacket liner was not worn for this. The plates print slightly less in the contorted positions but slightly oversized clothing with some "loft" or puffy batting would the most beneficial in hiding the printing, along with switching to clothing with a fairly dense pattern on it (to break up the outlines) rather than a solid color top.
Again, the jacket is properly fitted and not oversized.
Concealment of rifle rated body armor is very much a realistic possibility, but there are some limitations to keep in mind. That said a setup such the one described here is a solid option for those that have a need to remain covert while retaining the ability to stop rifle caliber threats, whether that be plainclothes officers, civilians, or others working in high threat areas who need covert protection from rifle threats.
Stay safe, stay informed, and don't forget to check out the rest of the blog.