Bill Siuru, Ph.D., PE
The 26th Annual Report on the Latest Advances in Ballistic Armor Technology and Design
The big news for 2019 is the issuance of NIJ Standard 0101.07 (or the pending issuance) which comes over a decade after the release of NIJ Standard 0101.06. This new standard improves the test methods, along with the performance requirements, for the level of ballistic resistance body armor must have to protect the torso from handgun and rifle fire. The NIJ Standard 0101.07 is somewhat more stringent when compared to the NIJ Standard 0101.06. For example, conditioned armor panels are required to be shot at the very same velocity which is required of nonconditioned armor.
Threat level nomenclature has been revised from previous NIJ standards to be more descriptive of threats and to reduce confusion among law enforcement users. The NIJ has also introduced a special test protocol just for female body armor. Finally, NIJ Standard 0101.07 incorporates, by reference, appropriate ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) standard test methods and practices.
NIJ Standard 0101.07
There are two options when developing ballistic performance standards whose goal is to incrementally improve armor protection products. Protection levels can be retained while reducing weight for greater comfort or protection can be increased at the expense of minimal additional weight. In developing NIJ Standard 0101.07, the latter option was chosen in order to increase the range of ammunition against which hard armors tested to the NIJ standard can provide protection. A number of anticipated changes to hard armor testing will allow manufacturers to offer improved protection with little or no additional weight penalty.
The body armor covered by the NIJ 0101.07 Standard is now categorized into five protection levels: The new NIJ HG1 and NIJ HG2 designations more closely represent handgun (HG) threats than the previously used Level II and Level IIIA designators. The previous lowest level of soft armor protection, Level IIA threat level against low velocity handgun rounds (such as the 9mm FMJ RN and the .40S&W FMJ), has been retired. The new NIJ Standard 0101.07 requires that the velocity for both new and conditioned body armor be the same. This will help ensure body armor performs at a high level in all environments.
There are many differences between the rifle (RF) protection levels in the new NIJ Standard 0101.07 and those in the NIJ Standard 0101.06. New test rounds have been introduced along with a completely new threat level. The new RF1 and RF3 designations more closely represent threats than the previous Level III and Level IV they replace. RF2 is a completely new threat level representing an intermediate RF threat between the new RF1 and RF3 levels. This level protects against 5.56mm M855 rounds shot with 3115 ft/s. This bullet weighs 62 gr. and has a steel core “penetrator” tip which allows it to pierce through barriers more easily.
NIJ Handgun (HG) Threat Levels and Associated Test Ammunition
|NIJ HG Threat Level||Test Threat Ammunition||Manufacturer and Model ID||Reference Velocity|
|NIJ HG1 (Formerly NIJ 0101.06 Level II)||9mm Luger Full Metal Jacketed (FMJ) Round Nose (RN) 124-grain||Remington #23558||1305 ft/s (398 m/s)|
|.357 Mag Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) 158-grain||Remington #22847||1430 ft/s (436 m/s)|
|NIJ HG2 (Formerly NIJ 0101.06 Level IIIA)||9mm Luger FMJ RN 124-grain||Remington #23558||1470 ft/s (448 m/s)|
|.44 MAG Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) 240-grain||Speer #4453 or #4736||1430 ft/s (436 m/s)|
NIJ Rifle (RF) Threat Levels and Associated Test Ammunition
|NIJ RF Threat Level||Test Threat Ammunition||Manufacturer and Model ID||Reference Velocity|
|NIJ RF1 (Enhanced version of NIJ 0101.06 Level III)||7.62x51mm M80 Ball NATO FMJ Steel Jacketed Spire Point Boat Tail (BT) 149 +0/-3-grain||US Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||2780 ft/s (847 m/s)|
|7.62x39mm surrogate test round 120.5-grain (7.81 g)||Specifications Provided by NIJ||2380 ft/s (725 m/s)|
|5.56mm M193 BT 56 +0/-2-grain||US Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||3250 ft/s (990 m/s)|
|NIJ RF2 (Same as NIJ RF1 plus 5.56mm M855)||7.62x51mm M80 Ball NATO FMJ Steel Jacketed Spire Point BT 149 +0/-3-grain||US Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||2780 ft/s (847 m/s)|
|7.62x39mm Surrogate Test Round 120.5-grain (7.81 g)||Specifications Provided by NIJ||2380 ft/s (725 m/s)|
|5.56mm M193 BT 56 +0/-2-grain||US Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||3250 ft/s (990 m/s)|
|5.56mm M855 BT 61.8 ± 1.5-grain||U.S. Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||3115 ft/s (950 m/s)|
|NIJ RF3 (Formerly NIJ 0101.06 Level IV)||30.06 M2 Armor Piercing (AP) FMJ spire point AP 165.7 +0/-7-grain||U.S. Military Supply or Rounds Meeting NATO Specifications||2880 ft/s (878 m/s)|
New Tests for Female Body Armor
The need for female body armor has increased in the last decade. Therefore, the NIJ has introduced a special test protocol for women’s body armor. Here, additional test shots and a different shot pattern are required around the bust cups to ensure that body armor designed for female law enforcement officers offers the same level of ballistic protection in this area as does the armor designed for males. Female (shaped) armor will be tested against the same ammunition used to test planar (not shaped) armor.
Collaboration with ASTM
Unlike the current and previous versions of the NIJ body armor standard which have been comprehensive standalone documents, NIJ Standard 0101.07 will incorporate, by reference, appropriate ASTM standard test methods and practices. The NIJ has worked with the ASTM to develop standards for universal components of the NIJ Standard, such as range configuration, measurement of backface deformation, calibration of clay, etc. This allows the NIJ to concentrate on the performance requirements of the standard, ensuring that US public safety professionals have appropriate protection, and allows the ASTM to develop robust standards for laboratories to reference, leading to greater consistency in testing across differing test locations.
New Ballistic Protection Products
RISE™ 2.0 is Angel Armor’s next generation concealable carrier offering a variety of features with the flexibility for external use with minimal printing. RISE 2.0 bolsters its soft ballistics with front and rear top loading rifle plate pockets for quick up-armor capability using Truth SNAP™ rifle plates without removing the vest. RISE 2.0 offers improved weight distribution – the weight of the vest and plates is apportioned around the torso (as opposed to the shoulders) using its QuadCore Attachment System™ for a consistent fit while keeping the vest secure with no turtling or shifting throughout the day.
The RISE Uniform Carrier, or R.U.C., is a designated external armor carrier offering a classic uniform appearance with color matching materials available in a load-bearing or Class B configuration. The R.U.C. includes custom-fit RISE ballistic panels along with front and rear rifle plates suspended at the shoulders. The R.U.C. is equipped with the QuadCore Attachment System offering fully adjustable sides coupled with an adjustable locking belt cover. The R.U.C. load-bearing option accommodates MOLLE pouches using low profile laser cut PALS webbing made with color matching material. In addition, the center button strip extends through the PALS webbing panels to help maintain a clean uniform appearance. (angelarmor.com)
Tested to the NIJ Standard, the cost-effective Aramid Level IIIA AEX35 Ballistic Helmet is an ACH full cut designed specifically with the officer in mind. The AEX35 weighs only 3.25 pounds and its boltless shell offers superior protection; its quick release harness and padding system fits sizes small through extra large.
Also from Armor Express, the Traverse is an overt patrol vest which converts an officer’s concealable soft armor to a front zip, side opening system; either the traditional LEGACY or BRAVO cut is available. To meet various department needs, the Traverse offers both MOLLE and dress configurations and a variety of optional features; it is available in a variety of color options. Internal plate pockets accommodate inserts for added protection, while front and rear hard armor plate pockets can accommodate rifle plate protection. (armorexpress.com)
Baker Ballistics has introduced an affordable new model of rifle rated ballistic shields, the MRAPS® X, specifically targeted for use by patrol first responders armed with patrol rifles. It is stored where needed most for instant use – on the front seat of the patrol vehicle.
Recent increases of deadly armed attacks upon law enforcement and citizens by culprits armed with rifles have clearly identified the need for an inexpensive, yet highly protective, ballistic shield to counter what is considered the most dangerous ballistic threat to American LEOs – AR platform 5.56mm weaponry.
The MRAPS X armor component is Baker Ballistics’ proprietary X-Alloy™, a derivative of US military grade steel armor plate. Much of the hardware and design concepts incorporated on the MRAPS X are proven and currently in use by military and tier one tactical teams worldwide.
Patrol personnel can now afford to be protected from prevalent weaponry and ammunitions which exceed the ballistic capabilities of standard lightweight NIJ Level III polyethylene armor inserts and shields. These include 5.56 x 45mm AR platform weaponry firing steel tipped M855/SS109 green tip penetrators and 7.62 x 39mm AK platform weapons firing Mild Steel Core (MSC) penetrator ammunitions. (bakerballistics.com)
Blauer’s new ArmorSkinXP® line provides instant access to armor up when circumstances demand it. By adding a fast loading zippered plate pocket to the front and rear of their popular ArmorSkin® and ArmorSkin TacVest™ products, dropping in 10″ x 12″ armor plates is easy as it can be, allowing increased protection quickly for critical incident response.
All of the features of the original are included in the ArmorSkinXP and ArmorSkin TacVest XP as well, including stretch side mesh panels for breathability and range of motion; an anti-odor mesh lining; and, with the TacVest XP, multiple rows of MOLLE front and back for attaching all of your gear. (blauer.com)
DEW Engineering and Development
The DEW PD series of ballistic door panels converts ordinary police vehicle doors into ready to use protective shields. These panels are integrated into the interior of the door, between the outer skin and interior trim, and do not have any external mounting requirements. The PD series can be customized for different applications such as the protection of panel vans, shelters and containers.
The DEW PD Ballistic Panel solutions have been tested in accordance with the requirements of the NIJ Standard 0108.01, as well as other special threats including the multihit Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) specification MTD 11-BDP01. (dewengineering.com)
GH Armor Systems
In January, a new series of external carriers was introduced with improved features such as back-to-front shoulder and side closures, larger plate pockets and a new shape. The Tactical Cummerbund Carrier (TCC.L) has laser cut webbing, a 360˚ adjustable cummerbund with front closure and it accepts all GH concealable panels. Made of 500 and 1000 denier CORDURA® nylon outer material, the front and rear top-loading plate pockets accept a variety of special threat and hard armor plates. Overlapping shoulder closures offer up to three inches of adjustment. It features a drag strap for extractions, loops for ID attachment, mic tabs, and an internal cummerbund for a secure fit. (gharmorsystems.com)
Designed from armor technology developed for the Department of Defense, and with input from law enforcement, Hardwire’s Tactical Shields meet NIJ Level IIIA or Level III protection standards. These ultralightweight shields are available in multiple sizes and configurations which protect in nearly every tactical scenario.
Hardwire’s Vehicle Armor products are a cost-effective solution for adding ballistic protection to a police vehicle without major vehicle modifications or difficult installation. Hardwire’s car door armor quickly attaches to a vehicle’s exterior and the Transparent Armor Window Insert fits into existing vehicle window openings. The window insert and vehicle door armor provide protection against handguns and shotguns (NIJ IIIA) or rifles (NIJ Level III). Armor is available for the Ford Interceptor, Taurus, Impala, Chevy Van, and Charger, as well as other vehicle makes and models.
Hardwire also offers lightweight body armor plates designed to fit into most plate carriers. Engineered with the most advanced ballistic materials available, the armor plates do not degrade, surviving the most severe conditions. All plates are available in single and multicurve configurations.
Hardwire also utilizes a unique manufacturing process to create lightweight soft armor. Dyneema®fibers are pressed under 25 million pounds of force at precise temperatures, turning multiple layers of material into a single system which reduces overall panel weight. Hardwire’s soft armor for tactical and concealable vests are available through Safariland®. (hardwirellc.com)
Phalanx Defense Systems
The M7X Series ballistic plates are a budget option plate designed to stop rifle rounds and special threats. At under five pounds, they are constructed with a combination of ceramic, polyethylene and silica, and feature a special impact absorption backing. The plates can stop M855 rounds, float in water and are warrantied for seven years. Made in the United States, the M7X Series plates are an NIJ Level III+ certified advanced threat plate.
Phalanx Defense Systems has introduced a body armor guide for fire and EMS. A version for law enforcement is scheduled to come out later this year. (phalanxsystems.com)
Point Blank Enterprises, Inc.
The SOB II™ (Special Ops Bunker) is a collapsible defense designed for quick transport and deployment. The patented design allows the SOB II to collapse into a single compact unit, small enough to fit in the trunk of a patrol car for transport or storage. It can be fully deployed in one minute or less, making it ideal for a broad range of tactical deployments.
The SOB II comes standard with modular side panels which can be quickly removed to function as hand carry shields. The side panels swing back offering added protection on the sides and also allows the SOB II to pass easily through a single doorway. When placed in the forward position, the side panels offer a wider overall ballistic protection area.
The SOB™ armor system is rigorously tested and certified to exceed NIJ Level IV requirements.
Exceptionally lightweight at only 17.9 lbs., the new 20″ x 30″ ASPIS X Gen II Shield provides superior maneuverability for handgun and long gun deployment. Available in Level III protection, the ASPIS X Gen II delivers high performance protection and optimal functionality. Manufactured from a hybrid composite ballistic material, this shield features a unique hook and loop forearm strap attachment system and is offered with an optional ballistic viewport.
Combining the functionality of a load bearing vest with the tailored appearance of a uniform shirt carrier, the Guardian Uniformprovides an integration of versatility and design. The carrier features multifunctional pockets, MOLLE webbing to attach equipment pouches, and a concealed center zipper for easy donning and doffing. Available with NIJ Standard 0101.06 Level IIA, II or IIIA ballistic systems, the Guardian USC offers around-the-clock protection and comfort.
The ARMIS GEN IIoffers an innovative approach to body armor design. Point Blank’s highly scalable, side-opening carrier allows tactical units the flexibility to configure the body armor system to meet mission specific needs. This includes the capability to release the complete vest in one quick motion and select the specific level of protection needed while enhancing mobility, agility and substantially improved range of motion for the operator.
The ARMIS GEN IIis available with an advanced laser cut fabric, TANK TRACK™ with Debris Management System. It has been engineered to provide superior puncture, abrasion and water resistance, and its lightweight construction is exceptionally strong with maximum load bearing capabilities. (pointblankenterprises.com)
The Safariland Group recently announced two new hard armor products – the PROTECH Tactical Hi-Viz Shield, a clear type IIIA shield offering see-through visibility and a 1.2″ thick PROTECH DT206C stand-alone type III hard armor plate for stopping today’s most prevalent rifle rounds.
Safariland’s Hi-Viz Shield models are made of a polycarbonate composite for clear visibility and allow officers to see threats from a wide perspective versus a small viewport. NIJ 0108.01 compliant, the Hi-Viz Shield provides ballistic coverage for the critical head, neck and upper chest area and stops 9mm and .44 Magnum LSWCGC rounds for five impacts. The design features a corner radius and is equipped with ambidextrous horizontal grips. When light is needed, it can accept an optional Foxfury® Taker R40 Riot Shield Light.
The Hi-Viz Shield is offered in three sizes/cuts: 1224, 1224T (both 12″ x 24″) and 924 (9″ x 24″).
The DT206C plate is a lightweight, type III stand-alone plate, effective against the increasingly common M855 Green Tip (SS109) round. It is made from a ceramic/PE composite, has a multicurve design and is just 1.2″ thick. An NIJ 0101.06 type III certified plate, the DT206C can defeat six rounds of the most prevalent ammunition on the market including the M80, MSC, M193, and the M855 Green Tip (SS1109). (safariland.com)
By increasing the total coverage area of a high-cut ballistic helmet by 21.2 square inches, EXFIL® Ballistic Ear Covers provide scalable ballistic protection. An EXFIL Ballistic helmet, with the attached ear covers, provides comparable or greater ballistic coverage (size one, 180 square inches; size two, 191.8 square inches) when compared to a standard issue US military helmet – the ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet) or MICH 2000 (size large, 178.8 square inches). The Ear Covers meet NIJ Level IIIA (according to NIJ STD 0106.01/0108.01) and only weigh 0.38 pounds for the set; they attach easily without tools to both the EXFIL Rail 2.0 and EXFIL Rail 3.0 accessory mounting systems. (teamwendy.com)
Body Armor Saves Lives and NIJ 0101.07 Standard Will Save Even More!
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2007, US police and sheriffs’ patrol officers had a fatality rate that was five times greater than workers in all US industries. While a majority of the accidental LEO fatalities are traffic-related, over 90% of all felonious deaths in the line of duty were due to firearms. NIJ funded research showed that, between 2002 and 2011, among officers who were shot in the torso, those who wore body armor were 76% less likely to be killed than those who did not wear armor.
The NIJ develops body armor performance standards and operates a body armor certification program called the Compliance Testing Program (CTP) to provide confidence that the body armor US public safety agencies purchase performs according to minimum performance requirements to protect against common handgun and rifle fire threats. The NIJ published the first 0101.00 performance standard for ballistic-resistant police body armor in 1972.
Today, the CTP is the recognized authority on body armor for law enforcement, not only in the US, but worldwide. While manufacturer participation in the program is voluntary, it is recognized by the industry as the standard in body armor quality assurance, with manufacturers in over 100 manufacturing locations and 16 countries participating. Since the CTP began accepting armor submissions to meet the requirements of NIJ Standard 0101.06 in 2009, over 1,100 unique models of ballistic-resistant body armor have been submitted to the CTP for compliance testing through the end of 2017. NIJ Standard 0101.07 represents the next step in providing even better protective armor to save even more lives.
Bill Siuru is a retired USAF colonel. He has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University. He has been writing about automotive, aviation and technology subjects for many years.