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Updated body armor standard takes aim at new challenges

NIJ has released an updated body armor standard to keep up with evolving weapons, improve female officer safety.

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For many, knowing and understanding NIJ’s standard for the testing and certification of ballistic protection gear is a critical first step in a body armor purchase.

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Firearms are one of the most dangerous threats that police officers face in the line of duty. Their body armor can mean the difference between life and death.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been publishing performance standards for ballistic-resistant police body armor for over 50 years. For many, knowing and understanding NIJ’s standard for the testing and certification of ballistic protection gear is a critical first step in a body armor purchase. At a time when police funding is on the chopping block, the lowest bid often wins. Standards are crucial to informing buyers and ensuring officer safety.

The NIJ Compliance Testing Program is NIJ’s body armor certification program, which involves testing armor to protect against common handgun, rifle and stab threats. The program ensures U.S. law enforcement and corrections agencies know what body armor meets minimum performance requirements before they buy it. The performance standard has been revised six times since the first version was published over half a century ago. These updates are vital to keep pace with the ever-evolving weapons arsenal that officers could encounter. The NIJ Compliance Testing Program is voluntary, and manufacturers are responsible for submitting their products to the program for testing.

In concert with the NIJ Compliance Testing Program, NIJ publishes a Compliant Products List of armor models that meet program requirements. Ballistics laboratories recognized by NIJ have tested each listed model to the current standard. The list presents over 400 models of ballistic-resistant body armor that are compliant with the prior version of the standard (known as 0101.06 and published in 2008).

In the latest evolution of the program, NIJ has released two new documents – the updated standard Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, NIJ Standard 0101.07, and the new Specification for NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels and Associated Test Threats, NIJ Standard 0123.00. The updated ballistic resistance standard relies on new specifications for ballistic protection, which define ballistic threats identified by U.S. law enforcement as representative of current prevalent threats in the United States.

What will be changing, and when?

In early 2024, the NIJ Compliance Testing Program will stop accepting new armor models for testing under the old version of the standard. Behind the scenes, the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) will use NIJ Standard 0101.07 to accredit ballistics laboratories and, in spring 2024, the program will begin testing, evaluation, and certification of ballistic-resistant body armor to the updated standard. Law enforcement agencies should expect to see body armor certified by NIJ to the 0101.07 standard sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.

What’s in the new documents?

NIJ Standard 0101.07 – Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor

To harmonize laboratory test procedures and practices relevant to ballistic testing, NIJ collaborated with the U.S. Army, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, ballistics laboratories, body armor manufacturers, materials suppliers, and other stakeholders over the course of many years to produce a suite of test methods and laboratory practices through ASTM International, a standards developer that publishes thousands of standards for many industries. NIJ used these ASTM standards as the building blocks of NIJ Standard 0101.07. The updated standard also has improvements to the test methods for armor designed for women.

NIJ Standard 0123.00 – Specifications for NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels and Associated Test Threats

This standard defines ballistic threat levels and their associated test ammunition. It lists common ballistic threats in the U.S. and is meant to be a companion to NIJ Standard 0101.07. NIJ moved the threat level terminology from the preceding NIJ standard for the ballistic resistance of body armor (0101.06) and revised it to be more descriptive, as well as to reduce confusion among law enforcement officers and those who purchase their armor. NIJ Standard 0123.00 may also be used in testing a variety of ballistic-resistant equipment, not just ballistic-resistant body armor, against current U.S. law enforcement threats, although the specification itself does not define any test methods.

What about the body armor I wear now?

Keep wearing it! NIJ will continue to maintain its current list of armor that has already been certified to the previous standard for several years, so that manufacturers and agencies can transition to armor that meets the new standard. Given the large number of ballistic-resistant vests currently worn by law enforcement officers, the NIJ Compliance Testing Program anticipates maintaining the 0101.06 Compliant Products List through at least the end of calendar year 2027.

For more information on body armor, see NIJ’s Body Armor Selection and Application Guide and Police1’s How to buy body armor e-book.