Originally published on the ShotStop blog

There are many misconceptions concerning the kind of projectiles that NIJ-Listed body armor can stop.

How can you know if your armor will stop an Armor Piercing (AP) bullet with so many businesses marketing it?

Today’s goal is to show how armor-piercing bullets are different from full metal jacket rifle ammunition.

Defeating Armor Piercing Bullets with Level 4 Body Armor

You’ll also discover how ShotStop® has shown that our Duritium® Level IV+ plates stop AP ammunition.

What Are Armor Piercing Bullets

According to the ATF (Pg.3), an AP bullet has to meet 1 of 2 classifications in order to be considered an AP round.

  1. a projectile core (handgun) that is made entirely or has any combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium.
  2. Any FMJ projectile (larger than .22 caliber), that’s intended for a handgun that has a jacket weight of over 25% of the total weight of the projectile.

As much as it irritates body armor manufacturers, the wording used by the ATF to describe AP bullets contributes to the confusion.

For example, did you notice both classifications mention handguns, but not rifles?

Fortunately, the ATF convinced Congress to include any projectile, regardless of its “intent” to be an AP bullet if the FMJ weighs more than 25% of the projectile weight.

Nevertheless, you wouldn’t know until you read the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44. Even if you read the text, it will be tough to understand if you are unfamiliar with reading official documents.

Are Armor Piercing Bullets Legal?

Despite common misconceptions, it is legal for any law-abiding American citizen to possess, produce, and even sell armor-piercing (AP) ammunition.

We have conducted thorough research and consulted reliable sources such as the ATF and federal government to provide verified and accurate information.

The Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 serves as a guide for AP ammunition and explicitly states that civilians are allowed to use AP ammunition.

The GCA also grants the United States Attorney General the authority to grant exemptions for AP ammunition if it is deemed to be “primarily used for sporting purposes.”

Can I Make, Own, or Sell Armor Piercing Ammo?

If someone wants to make, own, or sell armor-piercing (AP) ammunition, they must fill out a formal request and send it to the ATF Director.

In addition to this request, two other documents must be completed before an individual can begin producing, purchasing, or selling AP ammunition: the ATF Responsible Person’s Questionnaire and the official application for a Federal Firearms License (FFL).

Upon reviewing these documents and considering the effort and time required to complete them, one might question whether the production of AP ammunition is truly worth the effort.

What Do Different Color Bullet Tips Mean?

In this blog, we will be limiting our discussion to rifle ammunition instead of handgun ammunition, recognizing that numerous companies offer excellent body armor solutions for handgun caliber bullets.

However, stopping a 7.62x63mm M2AP bullet is a different matter altogether.

To aid in understanding the meaning of the various colored tips on rifle-caliber bullets, please refer to the table below.

Bullet Tip Color Codes

  • Red – Tracer
  • Black – Armor Piercing (AP)
  • Silver – AP Incendiary
  • Blue – Incendiary
  • Yellow – Observation
  • Yellow/Red – Observation/Tracer
  • Orange – Dark Ignition Tracer
  • Green – Standard/Ball (Some older lots could be the M855A1 ammo)

What are Black Tip Bullets For?

Rifle-caliber bullets with black tips are armor-piercing (AP) bullets that are specifically designed to penetrate light vehicles, windshields, and light personal armor (e.g., Level 2-Level 3).

These types of bullets are exclusively intended for military combat rifles and machine guns and are not commercially available.

Black tip rifle-caliber bullets are capable of punching through steel plates up to 1 inch thick, including many AR500 steel plates that are commonly worn by individuals.

What is M855 Ammo?

The M855 5.56x45mm bullet is possibly the most controversial round ever, and the question of whether it is an AP bullet or not has generated a lot of misinformation online.

Although the M855 “green tip” bullet was originally intended as an armor-piercing bullet, it fails to meet any of the ATF’s criteria to qualify as AP.

Defeating Armor Piercing Bullets with Level 4 Body Armor

The bullet is mostly made of lead and has a steel core. This is different from AP materials, which are made of 100% tungsten alloy, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.

The M855 was made by the U.S. Army to be better at hitting hard targets than the M193, but it did poorly in all ballistic categories. Additionally, the M855 has lead in its core and isn’t even an FMJ. Based on my research, I couldn’t find any instances where an officer wearing armor was killed by an M855 bullet.

To sum up, the M855 can easily break through soft armor inserts, but so can the M193, which is easily available.

What is M855A1 Ammo?

In 2010, the M855A1 replaced the M855 in the military because it outperformed it in every aspect.

Unlike the mostly lead composition of the M855, the M855A1 has a full steel penetrator core. As per the U.S. Army, switching to the M855A1 has eliminated more than 2,000 tons of lead from bullet manufacturing.

The M855A1 boasts better ballistics than the M855 due to the ⅓ lighter weight of its steel penetrator, and the Army even uses more efficient gun powder to reduce muzzle flash.

The M855A1 is capable of defeating AR500 steel and numerous other ceramic and lower-grade polyethylene plates, underscoring the importance of ensuring that one’s body armor is rated by the NIJ to stop steel penetrating core bullets.

What Can Stop An Armor Piercing Round?

As we’ve stated many times before, ShotStop® cares deeply about the men and women who protect our nation and our communities.

If you’re looking for a hard plate insert for your plate carrier, there is nothing better than our 4.5 lb (per plate) Duritium® Level IV+HS plate.

Defeating Armor Piercing Bullets with Level 4 Body Armor

We’ve shown our Level 4 plates to be multi-hit, even with AP ammo.

Best Body Armor for Armor Piercing Protection

The Duritium® Level IV+HS plate is the benchmark for ultimate protection and is frequently referred to as the plate that provides the highest level of protection.

Our Level IV+HS plate can stop at least six rounds of 30-06 M2AP, M855A1, and.308 AP bullets. The standout feature of our HS plate is its remarkable durability under intense pressure.

While the NIJ standard for AP protection is one bullet, ShotStop® refuses to settle for the minimum standard in any test.

We are committed to setting the industry’s highest standards for weight, protection, durability, and profile. Our plate is stronger than what the NIJ says is needed to stop AP ammunition. It weighs only 5.3 pounds and is less than 1 inch thick.

You will not find another plate that matches these standards.


We’re so confident in our Level IV+HS plate, we offer a 2-3x longer warranty on our Level 4 plates than anyone else in the industry. Our 10-year warranty is just one more reason it’s a simple decision for all LEOs and soldiers to switch to ShotStop®.

If the plate’s top-of-the-line specs aren’t enough to convince you, we offer exclusive discounts to all military and first responders.

We’re a business, and we have to make money to stay a business, but from day one, our primary goal for ShotStop® is to Protect the Protectors™.


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