How do you know what you’re getting when you buy body armor? The NIJ spells out performance requirements for ballistic armor and partners with labs nationwide to test armor products for compliance – but not all armor that claims to be certified fully meets the current standards set forth by the National Institute of Justice.
Officers who unknowingly purchase and wear uncertified equipment are still in harm’s way. To address this problem, the NIJ introduced a logo in March 2017 that makes armor more easily identifiable as certified.
LOOK FOR THE NIJ “LISTED MODEL” LOGO
All armor models manufactured after March 1, 2017, must carry this NIJ mark on the label to be considered NIJ-compliant body armor and listed on the NIJ Compliant Products List. The mark is important for three reasons:
- To protect buyers and ensure they are getting the protection they expect.
- To protect the validity of the standard.
- To qualify for grant funding, which many agencies use to purchase ballistic vests.
Make sure the armor label has the new mark and that the armor model number is on the NIJ Compliant Products List, advises Rob Kinsler, a physical scientist and chief of technical operations at HP White, an accredited NIJ testing lab. Some armor makers tout their products as fully compliant but do only partial testing or test to an outdated standard, which would not earn certification and the logo.
Reputable armor makers partner with NIJ-certified testing labs to make sure their products meet the NIJ standard, currently 0101.06(with 0101.07 anticipated by the end of 2017). Kinsler says his lab frequently gets requests to test armor products for NIJ 0101.04, an outdated version of the standard.
“That wouldn’t be on the certification list,” he said, “but they can say, ‘We were tested in accordance with NIJ 0101.04,’ and cops don’t know that’s not the latest.”
ATS Armor was the first armor manufacturer to comply with this requirement and earn the new NIJ certification mark on their labels.
“ATS Armor is proud of the fact that we were the first armor company in the industry to implement the new NIJ label directives,” said Brian Beckwith, a co-founder of the company. “With the new label requirement, there is no doubt. This new mark tells the world that armor with this label is NIJ certified.”
NIJ CERTIFICATION REQUIRES A RIGOROUS TESTING PROCESS
Armor must meet certain performance standards to earn certification, and the NIJ prescribes a detailed testing process that must be performed by a certified lab.
Technicians first photograph and weigh the armor samples and inspect them for workmanship. The armor is then subjected to thermal conditioning with a range of extreme temperatures and humidity, then re-inspected. Next, the armor plates are dropped on concrete and submerged in water.
The plates are then mounted on clay for two different types of shot testing: backface deformation and ballistic limit. Backface deformation is the dent caused by a bullet on the inside of the armor, against the wearer’s body. The ballistic limit test, or V50, determines at what velocity a bullet will fully penetrate the armor.
The NIJ prescribes at what angle, distance and velocity the plates must be shot, using Mann barrels for greater precision. At a minimum, the NIJ requirements specify defense against certain projectiles, most of which are faster than what police are likely to encounter.
“That’s one of the reasons why we use Mann barrels,” Kinsler said. “We get much faster velocities than a rifle could ever give us.”
V50 VS. V05
The NIJ tests include a V50 test to determine the velocity at which a given type of bullet fully penetrates the armor 50 percent of the time. In this test, the velocity for each shot is escalated in prescribed steps until a bullet goes through the plate and continues until a specific pass/fail ratio is reached to determine the limits of the armor.
“The greater your V50 number is above the required NIJ certification velocity, the better your plate is and more capable of stopping bullets,” Beckwith said.
The V50 findings are also used to predict at what velocity a bullet will penetrate the armor only 5 percent of the time, or the V05 number, which indicates what velocity of bullet is stopped by the armor.
Once testing is complete, depending on results, the lab sends an example of an un-shot and a shot plate to the NIJ so their technicians can review the report and verify the findings. Armor that meets all the standards is then granted use of the NIJ “Listed Model” Logo and included in the Compliant Products List online.
The NIJ standards are exacting and not easily met, and for good reason. Make sure any armor you consider is on the NIJ Compliant Products List and has the NIJ “Listed Model” logo on the label.