Steel Shield Evaluation and Shootout

While Hardcore Defense was the first company to design and market modern steel ballistic shields, other companies making similar products enter and leave the market from time to time.  We decided to acquire a couple of current alternatives to our popular Delta Special shield to see how they all compare.  Although this assessment was primarily for our internal benchmarking purposes, the results were illuminating so we decided to publish them for the benefit of all.

For the record all testing described below was performed by Hardcore Defense personnel.  We use independent labs for verification testing, but they're not suitable for a day-long study of this sort where the test plan is adjusted on the fly depending on the results.  All testing was performed according to a pre-established test protocol, all bullet velocities were measured with a chronograph, and all testing was documented by photographs and video recordings. 

The Candidates

The three shields tested in this evaluation are the Hardcore Defense Delta Special (TM), the Caliber Armor Ultra Series RF2, and the RTS Tactical Level III+ Rifle Special Threats Mini Shield (TM). All three shields are mid-sized shields meant to substantially protect the torso, neck, and head of a single operator. All three shields use a steel ballistic panel with no ceramic or polymer. All three shields are rifle rated. The Delta Special was designed specifically to stop assault rifle rounds. The other two shields use a heavier steel panel capable of withstanding NIJ Level III .308 projectiles. For users facing .308 threats, the Caliber and RTS shields are obviously the right choice. For users concerned with assault rifle threats, the Delta Special provides that protection in a lighter package.


All three shields are steel core with a polyurea coating. The Hardcore Defense shield uses name brand Rhinolining. The other manufacturers do not specify their coating supplier. Fit and finish on all three shields was very good. The corners of the Hardcore Defense shield were generously radiused, while the RTS Tactical shields were more square cut. The Caliber Armor shield matched the layout and radius of the Hardcore Defense shield although with larger cutouts and tapering.


The Caliber Armor and Hardcore Defense shields use 3/8" bolts while the RTS Tactical shield uses 5/16" bolts. The Hardcore Defense bolt uses heavy steel reinforcing rings on the strike face of the shield. The other shields use washers under the bolt head.

Dimensions and Weight

The width and height of each shield was measured, as were the sizes of the cutouts. The total surface area of the shield was calculated, as well as the area above the shoulders which would protect the operator's head. The RTS shield was the smallest due to its shorter and narrower size and the larger cutouts at the shoulders. Those larger cutouts significantly reduce the head protection area compared to the other shields. The other shields were larger, with the smaller cutouts and tapering of the Hardcore Defense shield resulting in significantly higher surface area than the Caliber Armor shield.

Each shield was weighed. All shields were within +/- 1 pound of claimed weight. The RTS shield was heavier than claimed while the other two shields were lighter than claimed. From a weight per unit area standpoint, the Hardcore Defense shield was superior to the other shields.

Caliber Armor

The Caliber Armor shield withstood all shots against the ballistic panel without any cracks or penetrations. The coating was not well adhered to the steel and progressively delaminated with each hit.

Both 5.56 mm shots against the bolt heads damaged or broke the hardware resulting in the handle swinging loose from the shield and compromising the utility of the shield. The M80 strike blasted the bolt through the shield.

The shots adjacent to the bolt heads did not cause any cracks or penetrations.

Caliber Armor

RTS Tactical

The RTS Tactical shield withstood all shots against the ballistic panel without any cracks or penetrations. The coating remained well adhered to the steel.

All shots against the bolt heads blasted the bolts through the shield causing the handle to come loose and the arm strap to be severed. This would compromise the utility of the shield, in addition to any injuries sustained from the penetrations.

The 5.56 mm shots adjacent to the bolts did not cause any cracks or penetrations. The M80 shot adjacent to the bolt cracked the panel, but this was a hot round more than 100 fps above the target velocity. Disregard this strike.

RTS Tactical

Hardcore Defense

The Hardcore Defense Delta Special shield withstood all shots against the ballistic panel without any cracks or penetrations. The coating was well adhered to the steel but exhibited uncharacteristic flaking from both the backface and at the perimeter of the shield.

All shots directly against and adjacent to the bolt heads were stopped without any of the bolts fracturing. The reinforcement rings were damaged (as per design) but there was no damage to the ballistic panel. The handle was slightly loose with about 1/4" of play but the shield was still functional.

For reasons unknown all three M855 shots against the bolt head missed. Based on our prior testing and testing the Caliber shield's similar 3/8" Grade 8 bolt we are assured that the bolt would not break if hit directly by an M855 projectile. However one strike caused the screw holding the arm strap anchor to break resulting in a loose strap. This would likely cause a distraction during use of the shield but due to the balance of the shield it would remain functional (the many owners of the basic Delta Shield can confirm the shield works just fine without the arm strap).

Note that we had some excess ammo and opted to shoot an additional four M193 shots against the Delta Special. None caused cracks or penetrations.

Hardcore Defense