What is the difference between Level III and Level III+ body armor?

What is the difference between Level III and Level III+ body armor?

We've recently gotten several inquiries concerning Level III body armor and how it differs from Level III+. Today, we'd want to discuss what Level III body armor entails according to the current NIJ 0101.06 standard.

There are several misconceptions concerning what Level III body armor can and cannot stop and how it is evaluated within the NIJ.

Our objective is to provide our readers with all the information they require to ensure that they understand the capabilities of their Level III armor and why it is critical to understand what Level III+ body armor is.

NIJ 0101.06

Understanding how the NIJ evaluates Level III body armor will help you understand your gear's capabilities. First, the NIJ 0101.06 standard is still in use, even though the NIJ 0101.07 standard is ready for implementation.

According to the NIJ, a Level III body armor plate is only tested with the M80 (7.62x51mm) bullet. Those who reason will assume that if an armor plate can stop an M80, it can stop any other caliber of rifle employed by evil folks.

However, when we understand ballistics better, we can explain why a lighter or smaller-diameter bullet may pierce a Level III plate.

 For example, if you have an NIJ-Listed Level III plate and are shot with an M855, 5.56 NATO, or even a.223 Remington, your armor may not be effective.

 The NIJ plainly stated that they only test the M80 for Level III armor since resources are limited, and trying all the ammunition used by criminals would take years.

What Can a Level III Body Armor Plate Protect You From?

A Level III plate will stop a "7.62 mm FMJ, steel-jacketed bullets (the US Military designation M80) with a specified mass of 9.6 g (147 gr) and a velocity of 847 m/s 9.1 m/s (2780 ft/s 30 ft/s)," according to the NIJ. 

Level III armor is designed to withstand some of the most potent rifle ammunition on the market. Still, it is not intended to withstand the velocity and punching force of an M855A1 or 5.56mm NATO bullet.

Why is it important to understand what a Level III Plate is capable of stopping?

It's critical for law enforcement because the worst thing you can do is go into a domestic dispute with rounds fired and believe an AR-15 rifle protects you. Far too many bullets on the market can slice through a Level III plate like a knife through warm butter.

Is the New NIJ 0101.07 Standard Caliber Specific?

Yes, the NIJ recognized Level III's deficiencies and confusion and will test numerous calibers under the new standard (NIJ RF2).

NIJ RF Threat Level

Test Threat Ammo


Reference Velocity

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x51mm M80 NATO FMJ Steel Jacketed Spire Point Boat-Tail 149 Grain

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

2,780 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Plus 5.56mm NATO, M855)

7.62x39mm surrogate test round 120.5 grain

Specifications provided by NIJ (See Ref. 16)

2380 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56 mm M855)

5.56mm M193 BT 56

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3,250 ft/s

NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56 mm M855)

5.56mm M855 BT 61.8

U.S. Military meeting NATO specs

3115 ft/s


The point of displaying the most recent standards is to demonstrate that there are bullets available for purchase online that will overcome an NIJ-listed Level III plate. 

When the testing uses the most recent standards, it will be evident which armor will stop which caliber.

RTS Tactical® is constantly striving to stay ahead of the curve when listing items. As a result, our Level III+ armor plates are designed to meet or surpass the existing and upcoming 0101.07 specifications.

Don't Hold the NIJ Responsible.

Many people are irritated by the NIJ, but we'd want to explain why it's so challenging to keep up with all the bullets being manufactured.

Manufacturers' R&D teams continually strive to provide the greatest ballistics in their ammunition. Every year, as technology advances, our ammunition gets quicker, more powerful, and more precise.

It isn’t easy to test every bullet released since hundreds of firms request to be NIJ-Listed yearly and do not have unlimited resources. The amount of effort and precision required by the NIJ in testing would be insufficient to keep up with advances in ballistic technology.

It's worth mentioning that armor manufacturers are presently testing against the NIJ standard in NIJ-approved/accredited ballistic laboratories. NIJ does not conduct its testing. Another often misunderstood aspect of the procedure.

Which bullets most likely penetrate the majority of NIJ-listed Level III armor?

There are thousands of bullets capable of easily destroying a Level III plate. It is critical to note that simply because a bullet is larger does not imply that it is more effective against armor.

  1. .223 Remington
  2. 56x45mm NATO
  3. 56x45mm XM193
  4. M855
  5. M855A1
  6. .338 Lapua

What exactly is the XM193 Bullet?

For a good reason, federal ammunition is one of the world's most regarded commercial ammo businesses. They manufacture some of the most accurate and dependable ammunition we've ever used.

Federal Ammunition developed the XM193 bullet as a civilian variant of the Mil-Spec M193 cartridge. To keep things simple, the M in a bullet designation stands for Mil-Spec. The XM cartridge indicates that it is not Mil-Spec but does have some of its properties.

The XM193 and the M193, for example, are both 55 Grain Boat-Tail bullets with a copper alloy and an FMJ. The copper alloy allows more heat to be absorbed, contributing to the bullet's 3,165 ft/s velocities.

In brief, an AR-15-mounted XM193 will pierce Level IIIA soft armor and most Level III stand-alone plates.

What distinguishes Level III+ Body Armor from Level III Body Armor?

What's the deal with the plus sign “+”? Although the NIJ does not recognize the '+' mark, RTS Tactical® and other armor manufacturers utilize it to convey that the plate provides protection that exceeds the M80 level III formal standard.

You should ask each armor company what their '+' symbol represents. The solution is straightforward for RTS Tactical®. We know that hundreds of rounds can defeat a regular NIJ-listed Level III plate.

Ours stops more than the M80, and its multi-hit capacity exceeds the NIJ III minimum of six shots.

RTS Tactical® was designed for real-world applications, and we will never settle for mediocrity.

Level III+ armor is NIJ-Listed at Level III, but it additionally protects against calibers (particular threats) not covered by the norm.

Which Level Is III+ Plate Best for AR-15 and AK-47 Rifles?

The RTS Tactical® Level III+ body armor plate is the world's most challenging, lightest, and most dependable Level III body armor.

To put this in context, the average NIJ-Listed Level III armor, like the RTS Tactical AR500, will only stop at a 7.62x51 speed of 2,750 feet per second.

According to NIJ 0101.06, Level III+ - multi-hit protection against 5.56x45 M193, 5.56x45 M855, RTS Tactical® Level III+ AR600 armor can stop several rifle rounds.

Why should I get the RTS Tactical® Level III+ Plate instead of Level IV?

Those who are no longer in the field don't have to worry about being shot at during a traffic stop or someone opening up with an AR-15 as I exit a car.

If you work in law enforcement and believe you may be confronted by a criminal wielding an AR-15 equipped with a 5.56x45mm NATO bullet or the over-the-counter XM193 round, you should wear Level III+ armor.

The 8x10" RTS Tactical® Level III+PS plate weighs only 2.2 lbs. and is only 1" thick. A Level IV plate will be heavier, especially for beat officers on the streets all day.

As we have explained several times, our internet pricing is usually based on individual purchases. We provide substantial savings to any law enforcement organizations worldwide.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you'd like to learn more about what RTS Tactical® can accomplish for your law enforcement agency.


Understanding the distinction between NIJ-Listed Level III and Level III+ armor can save your life.

It is hazardous to believe that a Level III armor plate will block numerous strikes from an AR-15. Make sure you educate yourself on this because some armor makers aren't doing their part.

RTS Tactical ® Level III+ body armor will easily defeat any AR-15, hunting rifle, or AR-style handgun encountered on the streets by police.

This article should have highlighted why Level III+ armor is so crucial and why you should get it instead of a Level III plate.

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