Ballistic Protection 101: Quick Guide to Body Armor Ratings and Performance

Ballistic Protection 101: Quick Guide to Body Armor Ratings and Performance

There are few things more important to any body armor user than the performance of their protective gear. Having quality protection that meets high industry standards is a matter of life or death when put to use—and confidence in your protection can make or break a planned mission or crisis response.

In order to make the best decisions for personal protection, it’s important to understand the ballistic ratings of the gear you wear in the field. Read on for the basics of what you need to know in order to make a well-informed body armor purchasing decision.

Understanding Ballistic Protection Ratings

In order to best choose your ballistic protection, you should have an idea of what threats you’re likely to face in the field—and how your potential body armor purchase performs against such threats. But don’t just take the vendor’s word for it.

Reputable body armor products will be rated by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—a research, development and evaluation agency of the United States Department of Justice. The NIJ uses a rating scale spanning handgun and rifle protection—with body armor ratings corresponding to different threat levels.

  • Level IIA is tested to stop 9mm and .40 Smith and Wesson ammunition, fired from short barrel handguns.

  • Level II can stop 9mm and .357 Magnum ammunition fired from short barrel handguns.

  • Level IIIA is tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer barrel handguns.

  • Level III protects against 7.62mm NATO FMJ lead core rifle ammunition.

  • Level IV offers some of the best protection, and is tested to stop .30cal steel core armor-piercing rifle ammunition.

  • Special Threat: When it comes to 5.56mm/.223 ammunition, the variety of construction matters. Lead-core 5.56mm can be stopped with Level III plates, but ammunition with a steel or partial steel core, needs a ceramic or metallic component, making a Level IV plate the best option.  (Note: The new .07 NIJ standard that is expected to go public this year will formally address this with the newly modified levels.)

It’s critical to note that Level II, Level IIA and Level IIIA ballistic protection isn’t effective against rifle ammunition.

While Level III and Level IV body armor does provide rifle-rated protection, there are differences in their protection level. Level III can stop lead-core 5.56mm rounds, but ammunition with a steel or partial steel core needs a ceramic or metallic component—making a Level IV plate the best option.

Choose the level of protection you need for each day based on your line of work—and consider being prepared with a variety of body armor options to suit the needs of you and your team. To learn more about body armor ratings, read up on the NIJ Performance Ratings here.

Meeting NIJ Performance Standards

Why are NIJ body armor performance standards so important?

In the field, your own performance can be affected by how confident—or not—you are in the protective capability of your ballistics protection. You’re unlikely to perform your best if you find yourself questioning your own safety.

That’s why it’s critical for corrections officers, law enforcement and any other body armor users to know that their body armor meets NIJ compliance standards. They'll have the peace of mind that their body armor will perform the way it’s intended to—and is fully capable of saving their life—enabling them to focus on the job to their fullest capacity.

Any commercially available armor can be tested for compliance using the NIJ standards that help confirm the vests and body armor will perform consistently as expected. A qualified body armor vendor should have NIJ test results for their products readily available upon request.

In addition to being tested for stopping power, NIJ-compliant products must meet labeling requirements and workmanship tests. Labeling requirements let officers and other law enforcement know exactly what gear they are choosing for each individual situation. The NIJ repeatedly tests the gear over a five year period with inspections and ballistic testing[1] [2] , which helps ensure consistency in production.

Be sure to also verify the expiration date of your plate purchase, as there are expired plates being touted on the market. A qualified dealer will have this clearly marked on the product.

Choosing the Most Advanced NIJ-Compliant Body Armor

ShotStop Ballistics provides a variety of NIJ-compliant ballistics solutions spanning Level III, Level IV and special threat protection. What sets our products apart as the most advanced body armor available on the market is our proprietary Duritium® technology—which produces lightweight, rifle-rated body armor material with unusual, multi-hit capability.

In fact, our Duritium® body armor plates are up to 45 percent thinner and up to half the weight compared to other plates on the global market at the same protection level.

This gives you the confidence of having maximum threat protection that is proven to meet NIJ standards—with dramatically less bulk and weight, so you can perform your job more comfortably and be prepared to react readily. When you trust ShotStop, you’re trusting a company that’s truly invested in your safety.

To learn more about how ShotStop Ballistics’ NIJ-compliant Duritium®-based ballistics technologies compare to other options on the market, or to take your best shot and test them out for yourself in a live demo, click here to contact a ShotStop body armor expert.


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