Tactical Swindlers: Fly-By-Night Body Armor Companies and Their Questionable Practices

The manufacture of body armor is not limited to qualified, expert manufacturing companies with good ethics and QC practices. Truth be told, all it takes to assemble basic armor is fairly rudimentary knowledge of ballistics and armor design. Foreign made (almost exclusively Chinese in origin) aramids and UHMWPE are readily available from sites like AliExpress or Alibaba. With these materials, a set of Kevlar shears or straight knife cutter, and some tape or a sewing machine anyone can “manufacture” body armor.

What we are discussing in this article is armor made by small fly-by-night companies that are often composed of only one person who is typically working out of a small building or even their garage. The armor produced by these companies (or rather individuals, in many cases) is often of questionable quality and the material sources are almost always suspect. The marketing associated with their products is often filled with half-truths or outright lies.

That’s not to say that an individual with proper knowledge of body armor, the materials involved, and who uses good equipment and manufacturing practices cannot produce a quality product, but the reality of this is often the opposite. This was the case with a company called Top Body Armor, ostensibly based out of a location in Texas. The “company” had a website at topbodyarmor.com as well as an eBay store that they disguised as being a third party dealer for the company. Their return address, as discovered through an eBay dispute, was a PO Box in Greenville, Texas with only a partial name (possibly a pseudonym) associated with it. The dispute was won easily as they failed to produce a return shipping label as the seller said they would, meaning the seller had no intention of accepting the return or sending a refund for their mis-advertised and low quality product.

Label on the TBA soft armor insert. The company claimed to sell NIJ Certified armor, but this label clearly does not have the NIJ Cert mark and does not comply with NIJ standards.

PayPal forced a refund, and in doing so I was able to attain more info. The company name associated with the PayPal account was Bullet Proof Armor LLC (I cannot verify that such an LLC ever actually existed). There was a dead phone number which was different from the number listed on TBA’s website - that number was also dead. The email address associated with the PayPal account was formatted in the way a company email account would be, with employee name at the beginning. This name was again partial and differed entirely from the partial name associated with the PO Box. There was also a different website associated with it, which was up for sale at the time.

TBA was claiming to sell a quality soft armor insert composed of Kevlar (an aramid fabric) on their eBay front store. What was received was an insert composed of UHMWPE (clearly of low quality, likely of Chinese origin) held together with three pieces of plain duct tape.

Contents of the TBA soft armor insert. Damage on the ballistic material is readily seen, especially at the top right corner.
Alternate view, giving clearer picture of poor quality material and bad cutting/assembly practices.

Edges were frayed, fibers were loose, and duct tape is liable to lose its adhesion over time as its exposed to flexure and environmental factors such as moisture and heat. The ballistic material, a UHMWPE laminate, was so cheap that the bonding film was peeling from some layers with zero use of the insert. To ensure longevity the ballistic insert should have been stitched together with bonded nylon thread or an aramid thread, or at the very least a high quality tape with the ability to resist environmental factors should have been used in place of generic duct tape. Further, the cover was made of a fairly cheap woven nylon material. Most covers from professional manufacturers will be composed of 1000D plain woven nylon or a rip-stop variant, most often with water resistance properties. The thread used to stitch the cover together was plain cotton thread, not bonded nylon as it should have been.

Top Body Armor has since disappeared from the net, though I do not know if the person or people behind it continue to sell products under another name.

VRaptor ArmorWorks LLC was another company that was misleading in their advertising. While nowhere near as egregiously bad as Top Body Armor, VRaptor made a vague claim that their level III Mil-41600 steel plates could stop “55gr 5.56” projectiles. This is an obvious attempt to suggest that their plates stopped M193 or similar high velocity projectiles. This was of course not true.

The plates VRaptor sold were fairly standard for steel armor plates - .25” thickness armor steel (in this case MIL-46100) hardened to 500 Brinell. The issue is that at 500 Brinell steel of that thickness cannot stop penetration of projectiles traveling at high velocities, typically this means 3100 FPS or greater.

I purchased one of their 8x10 armor plates and shot it multiple times with various calibers. While it did stop 7.62x54r mild-steel-core at 2811 FPS and M855 at 3004 FPS it failed to stop M193 out of either a 20” or 16” barrel. Distance from muzzle to armor was approximately 8 yards or 24 feet. The plate was penetrated by 55gr M193 at 3261 FPS, 3157 FPS, and 3103 FPS.

VRaptor ArmorWorks steel armor plate, showing 3 complete penetrations, all of which were 5.56 M193 hits.

What this suggests is the 55gr 5.56 projectile that VRaptor ArmorWorks claimed their plates stopped was travelling at a low velocity compared to what most 55gr 5.56 loads are capable of achieving at or near the muzzle. It could have been that the armor was shot at long distance, a short barrel was used to reduce velocity, or a hand load was used to reduce velocity. That, or it simply wasn’t a 55gr 5.56 projectile that VRaptor used.

Regardless, their marketing of the plate as capable of stopping “55gr 5.56” was disingenuous and there’s no room for such vague statements and unclear performance claims in the realm of life-saving equipment.

There have been other such companies in the past and there will certainly be more in the future as there is always someone looking to make money off of uninformed buyers. That said the best thing you can do for yourself as a purchaser of body armor or other life-saving equipment such as medical gear is to be as informed as possible on the matter. Of course that leads to another issue, that of unreliable information sources, but that’s a topic for another time.

Be sure to check out the blogs other articles, and remember to stay safe and stay informed.

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