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What are SAPI Plates?
The acronym SAPI stands for Small Arms Protective Insert. In other words, a SAPI plate is a type of body armor. What’s the difference between these hard plates and body armor vests like for example Kevlar? Because SAPI plates are made of ceramic they are harder, stronger, and much more effective. While a Kevlar vest can stop handgun bullets and projectiles up to 9x19mm Parabellum submachine gun rounds, you would need to wear SAPI plates to be protected against rifle rounds, which are larger and fired at higher velocities.
SAPI plates were first designed and used by the United States military as a kind of ballistic vest, known as Interceptor body armor. The Interceptor Body Armor system (IBA) was designed as a modern ballistic protective body armor vest system to replace the older Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) body armor system.
As for 2010 there are currently two variations of the IBA system used by the military:
- The original Outer Tactical Vest (OTV) – this uses the SAPI Plates
- The newer Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) – this updated version utilizes Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts (ESAPIs). Starting in 2005, the military began replacing SAPI plates with ESAPI plates. The main improvement was that ESAPI plates protect against armor piercing bullets. In comparison to SAPI plates, ESAPI costs about 50% more – at around $600 each plate.
How do SAPI plates Work?
The idea behind SAPI plates as body armor is that the hard material stops the bullet by breaking, absorbing, and dampening the impact in order to catch it. A projectile flying extremely fast carries with it immense kinetic energy, and so the material of the SAPI plate must be strong enough to be able to handle this energy.
When a bullet or other projectile moving at a high velocity hits the SAPI plate, the hard ceramic material shatters and the bullet material is blunted. This process absorbs and dissipates the kinetic energy of the projectile, effectively blocking the projectile and protecting against penetration through the body armor.
The material backing the SAPI plates helps as well. The backing material is made of Spectra, which is up to 40% stronger than Kevlar. The backing helps distribute the kinetic energy from the impact around a greater area, further dampening the blow. In addition, the backing prevents injury by stopping fragments.
SAPI Plates Save Lives
SAPI plates provide extremely effective protection. They are a modern kind body armor, meant to protect against modern weapons in modern combat. This is why many credit SAPI plates for being responsible in part for the lowest death to wounded ratio for any US military effort. Whether they are used in the military, law enforcement, or other dangerous situations, one thing is certain: SAPI plate save lives.