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BattleLab/CAT F.A.P.C. (Fast Attack Plate Carrier)

6/29/07 - The Battlelab Fast Attack Plate Carrier (FAPC) offered by Diamondback Tactical is a low-profile plate carrier designed as a high-mobility platform that's expandable with the Fast Attack Rack (F.A.R.) for additional load-bearing capability.

The FAPC comes in four sizes, dimensioned and shaped to fit SAPI plates of corresponding size - small (for 8" x 10" plates), medium (10" x 12"), large (10" x 13" ) and X-large (11" x 14"). Shown here is the medium size.

FAPC front

Side buckle

FAPC rear

The FAPC consists of a front and back panel. The panels are SAPI plate-shaped; they have the trapezoid shape at the top, or 'operator's cuts' as they're sometimes referred to. Issue SAPI plates, or others that are close in size and shape should fit. Medium SAPI plates fit the Medium FAPC perfectly (the ones with the Skydex padding on the front), while a Level 3 CPC triple curve in-conjunction plate with the Level IIIA FAPC insert behind it left a bit of extra room. There's room for a plate of 1" thickness in the compartment. A Level IV CPC plate I had would not fit the plate compartment as the 'operator cuts' at the corners were too short. The compartment opens at the bottom with a velcro and snap-secured flap, with two drainage gromments at the bottom.

There are five rows of PALS webbing on the front panel and six rows on the rear. Each has seven columns of PALS webbing. It's a bit unusual for a rig to have a odd number of PALS columns, so you won't be setting the FAPC up symmetrically with mag pouches. That's not unnessarily a bad thing, as you reload using your weak hand, and mag pouches can be biased one column of PALS to that side. There's a 6" x 2" patch of loop velcro at the top of the front panel for ID or flag patches. Almost the entire lower 2/3 of the front panel is covered with loop velcro underneath the PALS webbing and I'm not sure what that was intended for.

Two 'ear's extend from the trapezoids on each panel to form the shoulder pads. The upper torso and shoulders are both padded with 1/4" closed cell foam for comfort and to relieve stress on the back and shoulders. Velcro-closed straps extend from the front panel and run through buckles attached to the back panel. Height adjustments can be made while the FAPC is being worn. There's a 2" wide strap on each side, that connects the front panel to the rear one. Each has a side-release buckle and is adjusted by pulling back on the loose end of the webbing.

There are three things that I'd like to see changed on the FAPC. The first is to add 1" or 3/4" wide webbing loops on the shoulder pads to keep them from folding under themselves under the velcro strap that goes on top of the shoulders. I added some by hand and when donning the FAPC now, the shoulder pads stay in place. The second is to move the side 2" strap buckles forward, as close to the front panel as possible. This will allow easier buckling of the side straps, and also adjustments. I pre-adjust the side straps so that the loose ends of the 2" webbing are tucked into the elastic keepers, so all I have to do is click the side buckles closed when donning the vest. I'm not that inflexible, but I still have a hard time getting the second one to line up and close. The last improvement I'd like to see is bartacking on the side straps at the points of stress as right now, they're just stitched into the panel seam.

Front-back panel connection

Plate compartment

Level 3 CPC triple curve plate and FAPC IIIA insert

1" webbing loops added by hand

To expand the load carrying capability of the FAPC, the FAR (Fast Attack Rack) can be installed. This is offered in both a non-ballistic version, and ballistic version that adds Level IIIA protection on the sides to convert the FAPC into an assault vest instead of just a plate carrier. Each FAR panel has three rows and seven PALS columns, and is 6" tall. A stiff plastic sheet inside the non-ballistic version provides the rigidity needed to support side-mounted pouches. There are a front flap panel and rear attachment panel, which attach to the front and rear FAPC panels with MOLLE straps. The front flap panel has velcro, which interfaces with the velcro on the forward ends of the FAR panels. The front flap panel is lifted up, the FAR panels are aligned and pressed in place, then the flap is folded down, securing the forward ends of the FAR panels. Rifle mag pouches might have to be mounted lower on the panel so they don't prevent the panel from pivoting up. The rear of the FAR panels have straps and ladder locs. These are routed through common loops and D-rings on the rear attachment panel. The FAR panels are adjusted by shortening or lengthening the straps, and will accomodate a wide range of waist sizes. The rear attachment is a bit busy, so I shortened the excess length of strap.

Rack side panel

Rear attachment panel

Front flap panel

Front flap panel open and rear attachment panel

Shown below on the left is the FAR attached to the FAPC. It adds a lot more PALS on the sides. Whether that's needed in addition to a battle belt is up to the user. But if only ballistic protection on the sides is needed, the FAR panels can always be left blank, or side torso plates attached for protection against rifle rounds. I ran the FAPC at the range without the FAR, because I didn't need the extra space. It was also pretty warm that day. The FAPC was comfortable, and its low profile (and operator's cut) allowed me to use my normal isoceles hold when shooting a handgun without having the sides of the rig dig into my arms. The FAPC was stable enough as a mounting platform for my URS sling and supported the weight of the rifle when letting it hang. I've a short torso, and many rigs tend to be too long for me. I can adjust the FAPC so that it doesn't interfere with my belt rig, nor does it dig into my hips if I sit down or squat. It's definitely designed with mobility in mind. Note that since the FAPC places the plates at the correct height and not too low, I have to either run my carbine stock completely closed and place the butt on the plate (for a squared-off stance), or place the butt just to the side of the plate and roll my shoulder forward.
Although I think there are a couple of small areas which I'd like to see improved, the FAPC is an outstanding value for a compact, comfortable and mobile plate carrier.

Rack installed

Side view

Rear view

On the range with the FAPC

BattleLab Advanced Warrior F.A.P.C. (Fast Attack Plate Carrier)

4/5/08 - Last year, when I wrote the review of the gen 1 FAPC, I talked to Mark Baumeister at BattleLab about the issues and nitpicks I had with it. He smiled (on the phone), and said 'I'll let you in on a secret; we've got the Gen 2 in work, and ALL the issues you mentioned have been covered." Later, when I saw the prototype Gen 2 FAPC, I had to agree, because it was just as he described. When I finally got my pre-production prototype featured here at the beginning of this year, I was very pleased with the results, but had to sit quiet until it was finally released this month, along with the new Diamondback catalog.

Diamondback Tactical has introduced not one, but two new versions of their Battlelab Fast Attack Plate Carrier (FAPC) previously reviewed above. One is the Gen 2 FAPC which is a more basic version like the original FAPC, and the other, shown here is the Advanced Warrior FAPC. The main difference between the Gen 2 FAPC and the AW-FAPC is that the AW-FAPC features special padding and open mesh lining for additional comfort, and is also available with integrated soft armour packages. The Gen 2 FAPC is just the plate carrier, available without any inserts. The new FAPCs are still a low-profile plate carrier designed as a high-mobility platform that's expandable with the Fast Attack Rack (F.A.R.) cummerbund for additional load-bearing capability. The Gen 1 FAPC was a great success, and widely fielded in the LE, govt and military arena. Similar at first glance to the Gen 1 FAPC, the Advanced Warrior (AW)-FAPC incorporates many changes and has been much improved, in my opinion. The main difference between the Gen 2 FAPC and the AW-FAPC is that the AW-FAPC features special padding and open mesh materials for lining.

The AW-FAPC comes in five sizes, dimensioned and shaped to fit SAPI plates of corresponding size - small (for 8" x 10" plates), medium/medium long (10" x 12"), large (10" x 13" ) and X-large (11" x 14"). Shown here is the large size.

The AW-FAPC price includes ballistic packages with either integrated (sewn in) or separate (insert) plate-shaped armour for use with SAPI or in-conjunction plates. The reason for having the sewn-in/non removable 3A inserts is so that people issued SAPI plates don't remove the soft inserts, which are necessary for in-conjunction plates. The AW-FAPC is also available without any armour packages for stand-alone plates, but you have to call/inquire. Shown below is the AW-FAPC chassis alone, without integrated armour panels. There are also optional Integrated soft armor panels for the shoulders and an armored cummerbund adding increased overall protection for the wearer.

AW-FAPC front


AW-FAPC rear

Main Features - The AW-FAPC chassis consists of a front and back panel. The panels are SAPI plate-shaped; they have the trapezoidal shape at the top, or 'operator's cuts' as they're sometimes referred to. Issue SAPI plates, or others that are close in size and shape should fit. My large SAPI plates (the ones with the Skydex padding on the front) fit the Large FAPC like a glove with the Level IIIA FAPC inserts behind it. There's room for a plate of 1" thickness in the compartment. A Level IV CPC plate I had that would not fit the Medium FAPC fits just fine in the large. The compartment opens at the bottom with a velcro and snap-secured flap, with two drainage gromments at the bottom.

Front Panel - The AW-FAPC front panel now has the cummerbun/Rack attach point integrated into it based on the Praetorian and Predator Gen 2 designs, whereas on the Gen 1, it was a separate piece. There is an enlarged front flap with 4 rows x 6 columns of PALS on it, which flips up to expose the loop velcro panel for securing the front of the Rack side panels. The inside of the flap is covered in hook velcro to keep it secure against the main panel when the Rack is not used. Two tabs with snaps at each of the bottom corners provide additional security. Behind the PALS webbing is a full size flat low profile pocket, closed at the top with velcro and two snaps. It's designed to be used with the BattleLab Accessory Platform Pouches.
Right above the flap is a single row of PALS, 8 columns across. Above that on the upper chest is a 2" x 6" loop velcro patch, with a 4-column row of velcro PALS sewn on top of it.

Rear Panel - There are five rows of PALS webbing with 8 columns of PALS on the back panel. At the top is a single row with 4 columns. New for the AW-FAPC is the addition of a sturdy drag handle made out of folded 2" webbing.

Significant improvements - The original FAPC panels were constructed completely out of cordura, front and back. The AW-FAPC has fully lined panels. Open mesh covers reticulated foam padding/spacer mesh material which provides a small standoff distance and a level of comfort above that of the original carrier by allowing some breathing space between the rear of the panels and the user. The reticulated foam will not hold water or sweat, and is extremely quick drying. The thin padding is also more comfortable against the chest instead of a hard plate.

Gone are the short 'ears' that extended from the front and back panels under the shoulder straps. Instead, there is a long shoulder pad that extends from the back panel over the shoulder to the front panel. There is no interruption of the pad so you get padding over the entire shoulder. The front panel has loops to retain the end of the pad and it remains flat and won't fold over. The pad is free to move in the loops relative to the front panel when the ride height is adjusted. I like this arrangement much better than the previous one. The shoulder pad is lined with drilex, and padded with closed cell foam. The shoulder adjustment straps are attached to each corner of the front panel. They're routed over the shoulder pads through guide loops, which have velcro on top to prevent the straps from slipping sideways off the pads. The straps run through triglides sewn to the back panel, and are lengthened or shortened to adjust the ride height of the carrier. Optional armoured shoulder inserts are available that will provide ballistic protection.

The next improvement are the side straps. The 2" buckle has been moved forward so that it's easier to reach. Instead of pulling back on the 2" webbing to adjust the side straps (something that is ergonomically difficult), you now pull forward. The 2" webbing is sewn to the back panel, passes through the side release buckle, then back through two triglides. It's a similar set up to Kifaru's power pull on their waist belts, and makes snugging up the sides much easier than before. I typically adjust it to where I want, then leave the ends folded up in the elastic keeper. I was also glad to see that the side straps are securely bartacked to the front and back panels now.


AW-FAPC outside

AW-FAPC inside - fully lined

Shoulder adjustment

Plate pocket (with SAPI and insert)

Front pocket

Side buckle/adjustment

FAR (Fast Attack Rack) - To expand the load carrying capability of the AW-FAPC, the FAR (Fast Attack Rack) can be installed. It consists of a cummerbund setup with panels on both sides. Two sizes are available - one 3" longer than the other. The smaller FAR panel has 3 rows of 7 columns of PALS and is 16" in total length, and the larger one has 9 columns and is 20" long. This includes the 4" part of the panel which overlaps the front panel of the FAPC. By my measurements, the large panel is for people with waists 40" and over.

Behind the Molle panel is a HDPE stiffener which keeps the panels from sagging under load. Behind that is a full-sized compartment, 6" tall, for soft ballistic inserts or 6"x6" side plates. I've shown it below with a level II inserts from Tacarm, which fit perfectly. On the inside is another pocket - top opening. A row of PALS webbing is sewn near the top for fastening single-mag pouches/shingles. There is also a 2" wide strip of velcro inside the pocket for securing velcro-covered pouches. The panels are fully lined with the same reticulated foam and open mesh that the front and back main panels are lined with. All this seem like it'd be bulky, but it's not. The side panels are only about 1/4" thick.

Note that the FAR and rear FAPC panel attach method I'm showing here is an 'interim' version - a prototype which I've had for the past few months. Since then, the design for the rear attachment has been changed/updated to a completely different design due to a change in end-user requirements (you can see it on the DBT website and in the catalog). I'm showing this version just for illustration. I'll update this writeup with the production version at a later date. Anyways, with this prototype, two ladder locs are sewn to the back of each panel. A length of 1" webbing with a stiffened "T" at the end forms the attachment to the back AW-FAPC panel. The T is inserted between two rows of PALS webbing and the strap adjusted to fit the user. I'm a 33" waist, and I have the smaller panel cinched up to its minimum size. Of course, the T straps can be moved one column inwards if they need to be tighter still. Once adjusted, I just tucked the loose ends of webbing over and under the T (see pic). At the front of each panel is a velcro field - hook on the back and loop on the front. A tab aids in pulling the panel off the velcro when doffing the AW-FAPC.

To don the AW-FAPC with FAR attached, the AW-FAPC is put on the normal way, and the side buckles engaged. The front flap on the front main panel is then flipped up and the cummerbunds/side FAR panels are brought around, lined up, then secured on the front velcro panel. The flap is then flipped down and the side tabs snapped.


Two sizes of side Racks

Inside of side panels

Side panel top pocket

Plate/ballistic insert compartment

Rear T-straps and ladder locs

Front flap open

You can see in the photos below that the FAR with inserts does not add significant bulk to the AW-FAPC when installed. The user doesn't have to install them only for load carrying; they can be installed slick to provide side ballistic protection with soft armour panels or hard plates, or a combination of both.

FAPC with small Rack panel installed

Shown below is the AW-FAPC with small FAR installed, with 3 double M4 mag pouches in front and worn in conjunction with an Original SOE Gear battle belt. I'm short torsoed, and I'm able to to wear the AW-FAPC without it interfering with the belt kit. The padding on the shoulders and inside the panels does make a big difference in comfort over the original FAPC.

The new AW-FAPC (and Gen 2 FAPC) really is a great improvement over the Gen 1 FAPC, which was already a decent product. DBT/BattleLab did their homework and it shows.

BattleLab Accessory Platform Pouches

6/1/08 - With the introduction of their new vest platforms, Diamondback Tactical has introduced their BattleLab Accessory Platform Pouches (search for keyword 'BLCS' on the DBT website) which are designed specifically for use with those platforms (Praetorian, Predator, AW-FAPC and FAPC Gen 2). All of these platforms have an accessory pocket that comes standard on the front panel. This pocket is inside the flap which lifts up for attachment of the FAR cummerbund. The opening is kept closed by velcro and two snaps. There is additional hook velcro lining the inside front of the pocket. The velcro and snaps provide the mounting base to which the Accessory Platform Pouches attach to, which greatly increase the utility of the pocket.

The Accessory Platform Pouches are all constructed of 1000D cordura and covered in loop velcro on the outside. They also have one or two metal snaps which interface with the snaps inside the flap pocket opening.

Utility pouch zipper conversion

Shotgun open top conversion

Double 9mm mag pouch

M4 mag pouch

SR-25/.308 pouch

Side view of mag pouches
  • Utility Zipper Pouch Conversion Kit - The Utility Zipper Pouch conversion kit converts the front pocket into a utility pouch with zipper top. It's stiffened/reinforced with HDPE so that the opening is semi-rigid. I find this accessory the most versatile one, as this is the lowest profile method of carrying three 30-round M4 mags inside the pocket. PMags are a bit tight, and the zipper won't close over them if Ranger Plates are installed. The new Lancer translucent mag will fit inside, as it's basepad isn't that long. If I could only pick one accessory, this would be it. It greatly adds to the utility of the DBT platforms.
  • Shotgun Open Top Conversion Kit - This places nine shotshells within immediate access without having to open a pouch lid. It's similar to the zipper pouch conversion - actually like an inverted version. There are nine elastic loops that hold the shotshells securely. When installed, it does close up the top and prevent access to the rest of the pocket space beneath it.
  • Double 9mm pistol mag pouch - The double 9mm mag pouch also fits single .45 mags as well. The pouch utilizes DBT's 'Fricticious™' material inside - a texturized rubber material to provide retention. The flaps have velcro which secure to the rear of the pouch, and also to an add-on bar which attaches to the row of PALS webbing immediately above the pouch for additional security. The additional bar is not absolutely necessary, I found as the flaps are quite secure without it. In fact, the Fricticious lining holds the mags pretty securely just by friction alone.
  • M4/M16 Open Top Shorty Mag pouch - This is patterned after DBT's standard single open top mag pouch, in a shorty version with more exposed mag for quicker reloads. The mag is retained with a bungee/shock cord loop with pull tab. The pouch is lined with Fricticious material to prevent slippage and the bungee pull tab is also covered in Fricticious material for a non-slip grip. Two will fit side by side in the pocket.
  • SR25/.308 Mag pouch - This shares the same features as the M4 pouch and will fir SR25, M1A and FN FAL .308 20-round magazines. One fill fit in the pocket.
  • Cross draw holster - The cross draw holster will fit most medium-large frame autos and has an adjustable thumb break. It's reversible for left or right handers, and is constructed out of 1000D cordura and covered entirely in loop velcro. I found it a bit awkward to draw the pistol having it so high up on the chest, and prefer mounting it lower, but in case you don't have other options, this provides you with one. Using a Glock 19 with its shorter length made drawing faster than a 1911.
  • Not shown here - .50 cal Barrett mag pouch, sniper .308 ammo pouch.

These accessories really add utility to the front pocket on the vests - pretty neat idea. As I mentioned above, if you own any of these platforms; even if you don't plan on getting the other accessories, do yourself a favour and get the Utility Zipper Pouch accessory.


Cross draw holster with govt 1911

Utility zipper installed

Three USGI 30-round mags inside pocket

Shotgun insert installed

Pistol mag pouch and M4 pouch installed

G19 in holster

Diamondback Tactical FAPC Inserts and Ultra-Concealable Plates

5/25/07 - Stand-alone rifle plates are designed to stop the rated ballistic threat without the need to be worn over a 'soft' armour vest. 'In-conjunction' rifle plates are designed to stop the rated ballistic threat when used in-conjunction with the specified soft armour combination. For example, the SAPI plates initially issued with the Interceptor were meant to be used with the level IIIA armour in the OTV, not by themselves. But the Interceptor and other armoured vests can be bulky, and users might choose to wear a plate carrier instead of a full vest. Plate carriers are generally designed to hold a set of plates only, or small soft-armour panels. There are times in which a user might have a plate carrier, and stand-alone plates might not be available. In this case, in-conjunction plates can be used, but with a plate-shaped soft-armour insert. Diamondback Tactical manufactures offers Level IIIA plate-shaped inserts under their CAT (Custom Armour Technologies) label to use behind in-conjunction rifle plates in plate carriers. I was taking a look at an entry vest issued to a friend who's a Federal agent, and the panels were made by CAT, and the carrier was the older Federal Agent Kit vest (now replaced with the newer molle style).

Right now, the inserts are available as an option for the Battlelab Fast Attack Plate Carrier (FAPC), or also available separately. They're available in three sizes to fit small, medium and large plates, and the item number is CAT-FAPC-MD (for size medium). The inserts have the 'operator cut', with the top corners angled off. The kevlar panel is sealed from moisture in a protective blue nylon cover, and is rated to NIJ Level IIIA. Each panel is about 5/16" thick and I had no problems inserting them behind either the CPC or SAPI Level III plates. The mediums weigh 1 lb 1 oz per panel. A panel can also be inserted inside a laptop case, bag or briefcase flat pocket to use as a ballistic shield.

Medium FAPC soft-armour inserts

Shown with CPC Level III in-conjunction plate

Shown with SAPI plate

DBT also offers their Ultra Concealable Level III+ Stand-alone ballistic rifle plate, item number S-3. The threat level III+ rating is as tested HP White labs (visit DBT's website for specific ballistic threats covered). These steel plates are suited for use where concealability and low bulk take precedence over some of the lighter weight but bulkier poly or ceramic plates. The S-3 plate is only 5mm thick (.23"); less than half the thickness of a traditional 5/8" (.625") plate. The CPC and SAPI plates shown in comparison below are .625" and .85" thick respectively. Add the 5/16" of level IIIA panel needed (as they're both in-cunjunction plates) and the total thickness ends up around an inch, four times the that of the S-3 plate, which is stand-alone and need not be worn over a level IIIA vest.

The S-3 plates come in two sizes - S-3S (small 8" x 10") and S-3L (large 10" x 12"), with 'operator cuts' at the corners. On a post office scale, I weighed the small to be 4 lbs 13.4 oz, and the large 6 lb 13.1 oz, which is on par with other plates for the same threat level. The S-3 plates are made of steel with a Linex-type coating, which is a sprayed-on polyurethane textured finish, which provides protection against corrosion and abrasion.

As with all steel armour plates, there is a chance of spalling/bullet fragmentation. Ceramic plates 'absorb' the bullet and trap most of the fragments in the ceramic structure or backing fibers. Steel plates disintegrate and deflect the bullets when they hit into fragments. The Linex-type coating helps mitigate that, and when worn in a cordura plate carrier as they normally would be, the S-3 plates were seen to exhibit no noticeable spall under testing. Webbing, velcro and mounted pouches further reduce chances of fragments becoming a danger. Steel plates are also less prone to damage when dropped or knocked around. Drop a ceramic plate on the floor and you'd better get it X-rayed to check for cracks. Compared to ceramic plates of equivalent threat, the S3L plates are much more budget-friendly.

I found that the S-3 plates fit comfortably in all plate pockets. The lack of bulk is immediately noticeable. They'll also fit in other places, like backpack hydration sleeves, if the added protection is wanted (Eagle Industries makes a pack with a compartment specifically for a plate). The S-3S will fit in smaller pockets and in some places the larger one won't. The only 'improvement' I'd like to see is a double or triple curve steel plate. The S-3, and most other steel plates I've seen are all single-curve (the curvature is about the longitudinal axis). Ceramic and poly plates can be molded with one or more curves about the secondary axis to better conform to the body's contours.

Small and Large plates

LINEX-style coating

Thickness comparison to Level III in-conjunction CPC and SAPI plates

Large plate in a STRIKE chest rig

In the hydration sleeve of a Charlie pack

BCS NIJ Body Armour Carrier

4/5/05 - The NIJ Body Armour Carrier is one of the products that Beez Combat Systems offers. It is a lightweight, streamlined concealable armour carrier that accepts most commercial NIJ-certified soft-armour panels. Made out of 1000D Cordura, it is cut like a civilian concealable soft-armour carrier, and is designed to provide full front and rear, plus wrap-around side coverage (depending, of course, on your panels), with the minimum of bulk. Check out the BCS webpage for carrier measurements to see which size inserts will fit. The front carrier panel is connected to the rear panel by two shoulder straps, and two elastic straps on each side, all with webbing keepers/loops. The shoulder straps are 2-3/4" wide for comfort/weight distribution, and connect down the front with mil-spec velcro. These shoulder straps provide the height adjustment. The elastic side straps wrap the rear panel around the body and overlap the 'wings' of the front panel, keeping the armour snug against the body. The straps pass through web loops which keep them in place, and attach to the two 2" wide horizontal velcro strips on the front. The front and rear insert compartments are accessed from the inside, and have a simple velcro patch closure. All seams are double-stitched.

The carrier also has the ability to accept hard 10" x 12" plates (11" x 14" by special order). My level III triple curve CPC plate slipped into both the front and back panels perfectly. Both plate pockets are accessed from the outside, and have velcro closures. The carrier can be used with or without hard plates.

Due to the compact, simple design, which was field tested in A-stan and Iraq, the BCS Carrier pretty much feels like a civilian soft-armour carrier when it's worn, except it's more durably constructed than most. SInce it's completely devoid of PALS webbing, it's up to you to provide the load carrying gear. It works very well with a chest rig like my STRIKE setup. I spent a day at the range, and part of it with the BCS carrier on, underneath my rig. It felt a lot more comfortable than my Paraclete RAV, which is on the bulky side. (The RAV is covered in PALS, a lot of which I don't use as I just can't reach the pouches mounted on the side, and the cummerbund adds girth). You can see in the photos below how little bulk it adds - by itself or worn under my STRIKE rig. I found it relatively comfortable to wear, as far as wearing soft and hard armour goes, especially over the Crye combat shirt. The shoulder straps can be adjusted while the carrier is being worn. It didn't get in the way of shouldering a rifle or using the isoceles stance with the handgun.

Some people prefer their load bearing gear and armour all in one package, and some prefer to have them separate. Both have their pros and cons, and it is up to the user to determine which one is most suitable. Having your rig and armour separate allows you to remove your gear and still have protection. You can also have the same armour setup, and have a couple of different rigs, depending on your needs, which can be switched out very quickly. It allows you to streamline your rig without having unnecessary PALS webbing. It can be worn concealed under a 5.11-type vest for more covert activities - suitable for civilian contractors. All in all, a versatile, well-made and very reasonably priced product. It is also made in a variety of colours. Contact Beez at BCS for more info.

Note: I've been getting inquiries about the Crye cap in the photos - Crye had them at the SHOT show earlier this year, so I'm not sure if they're available for sale - please inquire with Crye. Also, this particular one was the only one done up with the Crye logo.

Front view showing side straps and velcro adjustment

Rear carrier panel

Front insert compartment

Front hard plate pocket opening

Worn with Crye Combat uniform

STRIKE rig worn over carrier

Side view of STRIKE rig over carrier

TACARM Ballistic Combat Uniform (BCU)

12/16/07 - As a former enlisted soldier and later as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army (now retired after serving 23 years), Matt Sonner realized the difference ballistic protection can make against IEDs and shrapnel.

When Matt was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was clear to him that beyond the protection afforded by the issued body armour, current issue combat uniforms such as the Army Combat Uniform and Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform do not provide any protection from the deadly fragments and projectiles produced by weapons the insurgents are using against Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides rifle fire and IEDs, these weapons include roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades, land mines, hand grenades, booby traps, mortars and rockets.

Over the past few years, US Troops and coalition forces have suffered thousands of casualties in the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of those casualties might have been reduced if the soldiers had been provided additional protective gear in certain areas.

Matt started his own company, TACARM (Tactical Armor and Equipment) and offers ballistic upgrades to a soldier's uniform not normally covered by ballistic protection. TACARM offers ballistic panels which can be inserted into the current issue uniforms, and also developed a modified Army Combat Uniform that holds additional ballistic panels called the BCU (Ballistic Combat Uniform).

Shrapnel Shield Ballistic Inserts™ - Shrapnel Shield Ballistic Inserts are comprised of multiple layers of Kevlar® fabric and are protected by an outer carrier of Cordura nylon. The outer shell has a similar camouflage pattern as the fabric used in the Army Combat Uniform. They are lightweight, flexible and have been tested and certified by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to stop high velocity pistol rounds and fragments produced by high explosive weapons such as IEDs, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and artillery rounds. Some of the inserts provide Level IIA (.38 special) ballistic protection, and some provide Level II (.357 magnum) ballistic protection. The Level IIA inserts are about 0.25" thick and the Level II inserts are about 0.3" thick.

The Inserts available for the jacket as as follows:

  1. Shoulder Pocket inserts - Level II (24 kevlar layers), 4" x 5.5", 3 1/8 oz each. The Shoulder Pocket inserts fit into the standard ACU/BCU uniform shoulder pocket with no modification to the jacket. The downside is that the wearer gives up a bit of some storage space.
  2. Elbow inserts - Level II, 5" x 6.5", 4.5 oz each. These fit into the ACU/BCU elbow pad pocket without modification to the jacket.
  3. Upper Arm inserts - Level IIA, 7" x 9", 4.5 oz each. These only fit the BCU. These were made using a 7” x 10” panel, Level IIA (16 Kevlar layers), to create the curved area at the top so that it fits into the pocket properly. TACARM currently cannot provide these for sale but hopes to in the near future. (The body armor company charges more to set up their system to make a new design).
  4. Hip and Lower back inserts -Level IIA, 10" x 7", 7.5 oz each (hip). Level II, 9.4 oz (back). These only fit the BCU.

Ballistic Combat Uniform (BCU) - The BCU, which is a modified Army Combat Uniform has the ability to accomodate 13 Shrapnel Shield ballistic panel inserts. This version of the BCU provides over 5 square feet of ballistic protection from high velocity fragments and projectiles. The added protection in turn increases the soldier's chances that a wound may be less severe injury if struck by fragments or projectiles. The BCU does not interfere or alter the proper placement of unit patches, name tape, rank insignia, qualification badges or awards.

BCU Jacket - The BCU jacket is a modified top from Propper, that has additional compartments sewn on to the hips and back to accomodate ballistic panel inserts. The jacket has also been modified with mesh panels under the arms and on the back for ventilation.

Jacket ballistic inserts

Hip insert pocket

Lower back insert pocket

Lower back insert

Elbow insert

Upper arm insert

Shoulder pocket insert

The inserts available for the trousers are:

  1. Thigh inserts - Level IIA, 13" x 10", 10 oz each. These only fit the BCU thigh insert pocket.
  2. Knee inserts - Level II, 5" x 8", 5 oz each. These fit in the existing ACU knee pad pocket without modification.

BCU Trousers - The BCU trousers are also modified Propper ACUs, with the addition of the thigh insert compartment behind the thigh cargo pocket.

Trouser ballistic inserts

Thigh insert

Knee insert

BCU characteristics:

  • Designed to be worn with ballistic vests such as the IBA
  • Foam pads can be inserted behind the ballistic panels to increase protection from blunt force trauma injuries, but add bulk.
  • The ballistic panels are intended to provide ballistic protection as well as a level of blunt trauma protection from knocks and bumps, blast and heat.
  • The BCU can reduce wounds from fragmentation and rapid blood loss.
  • Personnel can quickly add or remove ballistic panels based on mission requirements and environmental conditions.
  • Some of the Shrapnel Shield Ballistic inserts can be used in existing uniform pad pockets instead of foam padding, such as the ACU, USMC MCCUU, and other combat fatigues, with no modification.
  • The ballistic inserts become more flexible and comfortable with use.
  • The mesh ventilation panels help keep the wearer cooler and allow body heat to ventilate from under a ballistic vest. The BCU can also be made without the mesh panels.The BCU is laundered like the ACU after removing the ballistic inserts.
  • Weight increase to uniform with all panels inserted is around 4.5 pounds. This is less noticeable when the BCU is worn as it's distributed over the body.

I asked Matt what the intended applications of the BCU with inserts were. Matt intended the BCU primarily for Mounted operations where very little foot movement is involved and the biggest issue is surviving an IED blast. He feels that the BCU would not be good for tankers as they have enough armor and the BCU could slow down their ability to get out of a burning tank. As far as dismounted operations are concerned, Matt recommends the BCU only if the distances covered are short and the risk of enemy contact is high, like Direct Action missions. On long foot movements, the user would not wear any of the BCU inserts as the fatigue and heat retention would make them impractical. If the mission was to conduct a raid on an enemy position, he might carry some and place them into the BCU before engaging the enemy.

Airborne ops: Similar to dismounted ops.

None of the above applies if ballistic vests are not worn because the mission, combat load, terrain, distances covered involved, etc. make any extra weight impractical.

Operations around water: The ballistic inserts are not recommended for wear with the BCU.

BCU jacket

Side view

Underarm mesh

Back mesh

BCU trousers

Other considerations - Matt explained as with any extra protection for the soldier, whether it be soft armour or plates, the protection factor has to be weighed against a number of other factors:

Weight - This is always a big concern and the BCU complete adds around 4-5 pounds to the load the Soldier carries. This would not be a problem for personnel who operate from a motor vehicle and the biggest threat comes from IEDs and RPGs. For Light Infantry types such as Airborne, Ranger, SF etc. who are conducting extended operations on foot, the BCU complete would not be a good choice. The weight of the BCU jacket is borne by the shoulders. The BCU trousers rely on a belt to compensate for the extra weight and is another reason they would not be good for long dismounted ops. Suspenders can help keep them up, though.

Heat retention - Once again, it amounts to mounted and long term dismounted operations, and weather conditions. Wearing the BCU complete in a vehicle while in Iraq did not bother Matt as far as the heat was concerned.

Bulk - The ballistic inserts are too thin to make bulk a significant issue. Matt said that the elbow inserts might bother some folks as this is were they become most noticeable. I didn't find that to be the case, and they're no more bothersome than foam padding inside the elbow pad pockets. I preferred them to add-on elbow pads as they never slip down or have elastic straps that constrict.

Wearing the BCU - When holding the BCU in my hands, it's obviously heavier than regular BDUs with no ballistic inserts. However, the complete BCU weighs about as much as one ceramic rifle plate. When I put on the BCU, the weight is much less noticeable, as it's distributed over the body. The BCU jacket really doesn't feel any heavier than a leather jacket. In fact, if you've worn a motorcycle jacket with armour inserts, it feels somewhat similar, only not as restrictive, bulky or stiff as a motorcycle jacket. As Matt had mentioned, the ballistic inserts become more flexible and comfortable the more you wear the BCU. In a short time, they conform to the body as the multiple layers of kevlar that make up the inserts slide over each other to accomodate the curvatures and bends. The elbow inserts actually work very well to protect the elbows from rocks or knocks - at least as good as standard foam inserts. I didn't feel that the hip and back inserts got in the way once they had broken in, and bent easily when I sat down, squatted or kneeled. There was no change in range of motion or any added restriction of movement with the BCU jacket.

The pants require a belt to ensure that they don't slip down from the added weight, but not much different than if you load up the thigh cargo pockets. The thigh inserts are more noticeable than the knee inserts, as that's not an area that's usually padded or covered. The knee inserts pretty much feel like foam inserts, only a bit stiffer. I find them more comfortable than separate knee pads, plus they won't slip down. They won't provide as much padding as a hardshell external kneepad, but enough cushioning to take a knee comfortably.

In the photos below, I've shaded the areas protected by the BCU's ballistic inserts in red. Worn with body armour below (soft armour/plate carrier) you can see that a lot of coverage is added, especially below the body armour. The mesh panels in the jacket do help ventilation with body armour on as the top parts of the panels are exposed. Even though the body armour covers most of the panels, I felt that hot air isn't trapped as much in the BCU top and is still able to ventilate. Obviously, the BCU modified with the mesh panel isn't suitable for garrison wear, so that's a feature that might have to be left off. The ballistic panels in the BCU didn't interfere with the body armour whatsoever, whether standing, sitting etc. The hip panels just bend when you're seated. I didn't feel that the BCU with all the inserts hampered my getting in and out of a vehicle, nor got in the way when driving one.

I'm a civilian, not a soldier, so I obviously have no experience in situations where the BCU would be used in harm's way. All I can do is relate what my impression is, based on my limited experience, so remember to keep that in mind when reading my comments.

Use in clothing other than the BCU - I really think Matt is onto something here, as it makes sense (to me) to add ballistic protection in key areas if practical. Adding some ballistic protection to existing BDUs or clothing isn't difficult. Many of the ballistic inserts TACARM offers will fit in existing BDU elbow and knee pad insert pockets. The shoulder pocket insert fits most jackets with shoulder pockets. Only the hip, back and thigh inserts need customized compartments. It makes perfect sense to add the knee, elbow and shoulder pocket inserts to existing BDUs because they're relatively lightweight, and if you're using knee and elbow pads, they might as well be ballistic. I tried out the inserts in the Crye Field uniform pockets, as well as other BDUs like SKD and USMC MCCUUs, and they will all accomodate TACARM Shrapnel Shield Ballistic Inserts. Just measure your elbow, knee, or shoulder pocket sizes and get the insert that will fit.

I asked Matt about offering a khaki version of the BCU for contractors running vehicle convoys or convoy escort, especially in non-armoured vehicles, and he'll consider it if there's enough interest. Contact him at tacarm@aol.com if that sounds like something you'd be interested in.


Added ballistic protection (red areas)

Worn with body armour


Alta Elbow Pad Ballistic Modification - If the user prefers a separate elbow pad instead of putting foam in the ACU elbow pad pockets, TACARM offers another solution for providing ballistic protection for the elbows.

This consists of elbow pads made by Alta Industries that have been converted by removing the foam insert and replacing it with a Kevlar one. They also have Velcro strips along each strap that will enable the wearer to help secure it to their uniform jacket if the jacket has additional velcro strips sewn on. The ballistic insert is easy to remove.

The ballistic insert is in Threat Level II. IIIA also works but Matt felt that Level II is more comfortable and is more acceptable in terms of weight.

Original elbow pad: 3 ounces
Ballistic Elbow Guard: 6 3/4 ounces
Ballistic Insert: 4 1/2 ounces

TACARM sells the inserts and the Soldier, Marine etc. purchases the elbow pads and does the conversion. This takes about 10 minutes (per pad) to remove the stitching that holds the foam inside, removing the foam and inserting the ballistic panel. They would also need to sew on the Velcro strips to the pad straps and onto their uniform if they wanted this extra feature to keep the pads from slipping down. The opening on the elbow pads makes it easy to insert or remove the pad without it falling out during use.


Tacarm and 5.11 inserts for size comparison

Alta elbow pad

Insert and pad

Used in SKD BDU


2/2/08 - Alta Knee Pad Ballistic Modification - To match the ballistic elbow guards shown above, and if the user does not have knee pad pockets on his pants, TACARM also offers a converted Alta knee pad with ballistic insert.

The ballistic knee guards are shown below. The foam insert has been replaced with a Kevlar insert (5" x 9", 24 layers, Level II, 5 1/8 ounces) with a Gortex outer shell. A Velcro closure has been sewn into the top of the knee pad so that the insert can be removed and also used in the knee pockets of the ACU and TRU. The Alta knee pads before modification weigh 6.5 ounces each, and 10.5 oz each after conversion.

The ballistic insert doesn't provide as much shock absorption as the foam, but there's still some room to slip some foam in behind the ballistic insert if desired. The Alta knee pads have AltaLok buckles and they make for quick donning and doffing. The buckle is simply slipped over the metal stud on the side of the padding, and it stays put. There's no left or right knee pad; they're both identical. Alta saves manufacturing costs and it doesn't affect function. The rubber pad provides protection for the knee cap and a non-slip surface. The inside of the pad has a soft fabric lining for comfort. There's no provision for securing the loose ends of the straps, but that can be solved by folding them over and tucking them in.



Alta knee pads

Velcro opening

Insert and pad

Ranger Body Armour (RBA)

Ranger Body Armor (RBA) was designed by the U.S. Army Natick RD&E Center to meet the operational needs of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
RBA consists of a two part system: a flexible vest and a rigid plate, both of which provide ballistic protection to the upper torso. The Flexible Vest consists of an Aramid (Kevlar KM2) filler encased in a nylon woodland camouflage-printed carrier. The vest weighs approximately 8 pounds in size medium, and protects the front and back torso from most 9 mm and 44 magnum threats, in accordance with Level IIIA of the National Institute of Justice Standard 0101.03, Ballistic Resistance of Police Body Armor. It also provides fragmentation protection similar to that of the Personal Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) Vest. The 8 pound Ceramic Upgrade Plates, which provide front torso and back coverage, are fabricated of 2" x 2" aluminum oxide ceramic tiles. When the upgrade plates are inserted into the front and back pockets of the vest, they protect an approximate 10" x 12" area from 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ball projectiles. (source: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/rba.htm)

At about 20 lbs, the RBA vest is quite heavy. It is worn for short-duration, high risk operations with probable contact, hopefully with vehicle support. Because of the added bulk of the vest and plates, wearing a load bearing vest over it is cumbersome; the standard H-harness and web gear worn low is much more practical and comfortable, as shown in the pictures on the right.

Front and back ceramic plates

Level IIIA kevlar insert

Web gear worn over RBA

RBA Plate Test

10/9/04 - Ferdie and I went out to demo his Ferfrans rate reducer for a SWAT team. They had brought out a back RBA plate to shoot at, so I took pics to document it. One of each of these rounds was fired at the plate: M193 (55 gr 5.56mm), M855/SS190 green tip, 5.56 Israeli AP, and 7.26X39. None of thse rounds penetrated to the back side of the plate. Range was from about 15-20 yards. The hits produced craters in the front, full of ceramic bits and powder, but there was no deformation of the back surface. Only when a barrage of 10-15 rounds in full auto was let loose did the rounds start to go through and kill the test dummy.


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