Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here. The 1980s, under the Reagan administration and still in the shadow of the Vietnam War, brought an influx of military funding after a long funding drought. The military made leaps forward in numerous military technologies. One of those technologies was body armor.

PASGT (Personal Armor System for Ground Troops) vests, known to troops of that time as  “Kevlar vests,” rolled out in the early 1980s. Kevlar was all the rage, and the new helmets were also made of Kevlar. The Gulf War PASGT vests were a hybrid of nylon and Kevlar. It provided superior frag protection but still no real protection from bullets.

A Primer on Ballistic Vests (Pt. 2): Recent Systems and Plate Ratings

OTV/IBA (Outer Tactical Vest/Interceptor Body Armor) vests came out in the late 1980s and were heralded for being able to stop bullets, which they did, but only small-caliber pistol rounds, only on a good day. The OTV was all Kevlar, provided protection from frags, and could stop a round from a 9mm submachine gun. IBA was a slightly different Kevlar mix and was the first true bullet stopper, but again, only 9mm and lower.


SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) ceramic plates came out in the late 1990s and replaced the PASGT system. The first SAPI plates stopped 7.62mm and 5.56mm rounds for multiple hits, a major leap forward in ballistic plate technology and user protection. But they were still too bulky and heavy for some.

Around this time SOCOM (Special Operations Command) came out with Spear plates, which were lighter and less bulky, and could even be worn under clothing or uniforms for a more covert appearance. But Spear plates were rated only for one hit, which was fine for SOCOM specs. It was not until ESAPI plates came out that SOCOM changed their specs to require plates to sustain multiple hits and remain functional.

One remaining problem was cracks and defects. At that time, a cracked plate had greatly diminished effectiveness. Thus, plates were constantly turned in and inspected, even X-rayed, to be checked for cracks and other defects.

The USMC came out with the MTV (Modular Tactical Vest) in 2006. It was designed to stop 7.62mm and M80 ball ammo. Tests proved it was fairly successful in matching those claims.


The Army came out with IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest) in 2007. Its big feature was easily “scalable” plates. The term “scalable” pertained to the ability to swap out lighter and heavier plates for more or less protection, which corresponds to more or less weight.