The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), in cooperation with its Compliance Testing Program (CTP), is undertaking a series of updates and enhancements to several protective equipment standards. These changes reflect the latest evolution and development of the equipment.
For more than 35 years, criminal justice professionals in the United States have looked to NIJ and its CTP to give them confidence that the body armor they wear while performing their duties will afford them protection against on-the-job threats. The CTP oversees testing of body armor models by NIJ-approved laboratories and verifies that those models also meet specific construction, workmanship, and labeling requirements.
Developing the Universal Threat Matrix for Testing Ballistic Resistance
NIJ is developing a new NIJ Universal Threat Matrix, a table defining specific types of ammunition and velocities for testing ballistic resistance to both handgun and rifle fire. The idea behind the matrix is that one document can be revised and the resulting change can be populated in multiple places.
“Through consultation with law enforcement professionals, it became clear that the threats, although changing and developing over time, are the same regardless of the equipment being used,” says Dan Longhurst, standards coordinator for the CTP. “In the future, as the threats change, a change to the matrix will be reflected in every NIJ standard that uses it as a reference document.”1
The matrix is presently in draft development and will be released for public comment simultaneously with the draft ballistic-resistant body armor standard later this year (2017). Developed by the NIJ Special Technical Committee (STC) that is currently revising the ballistic-resistant body armor standard,2 the stand-alone document will become a reference document for not only the Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor standard, but also for NIJ’s 2017 revision to the Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials standard and for the forthcoming ballistic-resistant shields standard.
Both the draft matrix and revised standard will take effect after all comments received during the public comment period, which will be announced in the Federal Register, are addressed. Also, the ballistic-resistant materials standard revision and the 0115.01 revision to Stab Resistance of Personal Body Armor will soon be released for public comment.3 A test method for ballistic-resistant shields is presently being developed through ASTM International, with NIJ plans calling for the eventual creation of a standard and a CTP centered on this test method.
Clarifying and Refining the Ballistic-resistant Body Armor Standard
Changes in the latest revision to NIJ’s ballistic-resistant body armor standard fall mainly in the areas of protection levels, types of ammunition used in testing, vocabulary refinements, and testing of female armor, including the follow changes.
- Developing a test protocol specific to female armors, based on input from several focus groups of female officers
- Introducing the use of 7.62 x 39 mild steel core (MSC) or an equivalent threat round and 5.56 mm (.223) ammunition into hard armor plate testing
- Revisiting protection level names of both hard armor plates and soft armor vests, with a goal of ensuring clarity through nomenclature that instantly identifies the type of protection offered and provides demarcation between the new standard and previous iterations
- Retiring Level IIA, the lowest level of soft armor protection
- Reducing confusion caused by manufacturers, labs, practitioners, and government agencies all using the same term to mean different things or using different terms to describe the same thing by including only a truncated section of definitions and additionally referencing the newly released ASTM E3005-15 Standard Terminology for Body Armor.4 (As a service to the criminal justice community, NIJ provides free access to all ASTM standards through a portal on JUSTNET)5
As of March 2017, the CTP requires the addition of the NIJ certification mark to the labels of ballistic-resistant body armor models approved by NIJ. Registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the NIJ certification mark indicates that a specific model of ballistic-resistant body armor has been tested in an NIJ-approved laboratory and found to comply with the current version of the NIJ ballistic-resistant body armor standard and the NIJ CTP program requirements. By placing the NIJ certification mark on the label, a manufacturer clearly communicates that the armor is constructed in the same manner as the original test items evaluated and determined to be compliant by NIJ and is an active participant in the CTP’s follow-up testing and inspection program that periodically inspects and tests production samples.
Prior to implementation of the NIJ certification mark, manufacturers indicated participation in the NIJ CTP by using the following NIJ CTP statement of compliance on their labels: “This model of armor has been determined to comply with NIJ Standard-0101.06 by the NIJ Compliance Testing Program and is listed on the NIJ Compliant Product List.” The CTP began phasing out use of that statement in October 2016, and all armor manufactured after March 1, 2017, must carry the mark rather than the statement to be considered NIJ-compliant body armor.
Revised Ballistic Materials Standard Coming in 2017
The update to the Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials standard addresses a number of concerns relating to the application of the existing standard (NIJ 0108.01) by (1) updating the ammunition table to reflect the intent of standard and to align it with the existing NIJ threat matrix and (2) updating testing procedures to reflect current laboratory practices.6
The updated standard (NIJ 0108.02) was developed based on feedback from a focus group consisting of laboratory professionals, NIJ representatives, and CTP staff and has been submitted to NIJ for comment and approval. Once agency comments are addressed, NIJ will announce the availability of the document for public comment via the Federal Register. After the public comment period closes, and those comments are addressed, NIJ will release the final document. Once the final document is released, all new ballistic-resistant material tests should be conducted to the updated requirements. Note that ballistic-resistant materials are tested by the manufacturer, which then issues a statement of conformity to the NIJ standard; there is no compliance testing program for these materials.
Ballistic Shields Test Method Development with ASTM
In response to requests from the criminal justice field and a survey of laboratory practices that indicated slight differences in testing procedures, NIJ and CTP staff are participating in an ASTM effort to define a universal test method for ballistic-resistant shields. Tentative plans call for developing a complete NIJ standard referencing the ASTM test method and standing up a related CTP.
The ASTM draft standard focuses on testing individual features and includes descriptions on how to test, for example, windows, shield faces, and bolts. It does not call out ballistic threats; NIJ will use the Universal Threat Matrix for testing. The testing plans include the following features.
- The shot pattern for shield windows will include angled shots where the window and body join together and three shots in the center modeled after the tight cluster in the ballistic-resistant body armor shot pattern.
- Shots placed on other areas of the shield will probe weak features such as bolts and handle tie-downs.
- The pass or fail criteria will relate to perforation of an aluminum witness panel located behind the shield body.
- The schematic for the standardized test rig will be designed to hold shields in a similar manner to how they are held by a user. The rig will need to be updated from time to time to reflect the current state of the industry.
Plans call for a first-round committee vote on the draft in the summer and a second-round vote on a revised version in the fall. NIJ will begin the process of creating its own standard and CTP following ASTM adoption.
Stab-resistant Standard Changing to Address Real-World Stab and Slash Threats
To help criminal justice professionals obtain the protection they need against inmate-made threats in correctional facilities, NIJ is updating Stab Resistance of Personal Body Armor (NIJ standard-0115.00). The current standard addresses only the threat from commercially made knives. The revised standard introduces threats that reflect inmate made weapons such as shanks, shivs, blades, and spikes, which will be more applicable to the environments in which many corrections officers work without burdening them with protection against non-applicable threats. The updated standard does maintain the commercial threat protection level for officers who work in uncontrolled environments. Like the revised ballistic-resistant body armor standard, this standard also adds testing specific to female body armor models. An STC that includes corrections practitioners from multiple agencies provided real-world input.
Both commercial and improvised tests will include knife and spike tests identified by the STC as representing prevalent threats, and female armor will be tested to ensure any stitching or forming of the bust cups continues to meet the same required level of protection afforded by unshaped armor. The standard also covers conditioning prior to testing to ensure the armors continue to work as intended after being subjected to sustained mechanical damage, along with including simple tests for label legibility and durability.
Compliance Testing Program
For more information on the CTP, to check the Compliant Product Lists of stab- and ballistic-resistant armors, and to get the latest information on the progress of the standards revisions, visit www.justnet.org or call 800-248-2742.
Becky Lewis is a senior writer/editor with the Justice Technology Information Center and the lead writer for e-TechBeat, the monthly online newsletter of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) System. The NLECTC System is a program of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.
1 Dan Longhurst (standards coordinator, NIJ CTP), interview with author, February 2, 2017.
2 Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor: NIJ Standard-0101.06 (Washington DC: National Institute of Justice, 2008).
3 Stab Resistance of Personal Body Armor: NIJ Standard-0115.00 (Washington DC: National Institute of Justice, 2000).
4 ASTM E3005-15 Standard Terminology for Body Armor (West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International, 2015).
5 National Institute of Justice, “Clarifying Threat Levels, Refining Ammunition Types, Adding Female Armor Testing: NIJ Revising Ballistic-Resistant Body Armor Standard,” factsheet.
6 Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials: NIJ Standard 0108.01 (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 1985).