Revolutionizing Body Armor Standards: Important Update from PASS

Update – December 1, 2023: NIJ 0101.07 and NIJ 0123.00 have been released. Read the notice here.

The 16th International Personal Ballistic Systems Symposium (PASS 2023) took place at the Maritim Hotel and Conference Center in Dresden, Germany, from September 11 to 15. The event brought together experts from industry, academia and the military/government sector to discuss recent developments, share research and explore new technologies.

The symposium featured a series of keynotes, technical sessions and poster presentations focused on the latest trends and challenges in personal protective equipment systems. While most of the sessions were about methodologies used in protective equipment testing and how those methods relate to real-world protective functions, there were a few that would be of interest to a wider audience. Let’s take a quick look at them here.

Critical discussion of bulletproof vest standards: Revisions and new standards

Arguably the most impactful session was “NIJ Standards for Ballistic Resistance of Bulletproof Vests and Puncture Resistance of Bulletproof Vests: New Developments,” presented by NIJ personnel.

The 0101.07 draft, released several years ago, is still accurate with the exception of a few small changes. The main change concerns the 7.62x39mm test bullet. The specific challenge with this bullet is that mild steel core or Type PS bullets are well known to have a large degree of variability in manufacturing. This variability can lead to inconsistent performance when the bullet is used to test bulletproof vests, making the test results unreliable.

NIJ Ballistic Levels of NIJ Standard 0123.00

Variations in MSC variants arise from differences in material, core mass, dimensions, and even the hardness of the steel used in the core, which can affect how the bullet behaves upon impact. For testing purposes, this means that bullets from one batch of MSC bullets are much more likely to penetrate armor plating than bullets from another batch, resulting in a lack of standardization of test conditions.

To address this, NIJ initially planned to develop and use a replacement round for the 7.62x39mm that would ensure that every test round would be virtually indistinguishable from every other test round and would match as closely as possible the average observed performance of the 7.62x39mm MSC round encountered in the field.

A replacement round is still in development, but because development is taking much longer than expected, the updated 0101.07 standard specifies the use of factory ammunition. As development of a replacement round has been underway, the Factory 31 7.62x39mm Type 56 has proven sufficiently uniform and reliable. This Type 56 Factory 31 round will be designated as the NIJ test round for 7.62x39mm until an NIJ-specific replacement round is validated and available for use.

Another update is that NIJ is transitioning all test threats to a new standard, 0123.00, which is intended as the threat repository for future NIJ specifications. So when the 0101.07 spec is released it will essentially say “For more information on threats related to Level RF2, see 0123.00” and future ballistic shield specs will likely say the exact same thing. This will standardize ballistic threats and velocities across the NIJ family of armor specifications.

There are some changes from the draft document, but they are minor, mostly related to firing locations. The shots are fired at the top of the hard armor plates because NIJ believes the weakest point on the plate may be the top, which is also the area most likely to be damaged in a drop test, although NIJ does not mention this. Additionally, there are new firing locations for soft armor panels and additional testing provisions for female-structured soft armor panels.

Major changes are also coming to the NIJ’s standard for stab-resistant body armor: The soon-to-be-released new standard, 0115.01, will likely include only two levels: “commercial” and “improvised.”

Puncture protection categories, puncture threats, and associated impact kinetic energies proposed for NIJ Standard 0115.01.

At the commercial level, armour is tested against sharp knives and spikes made from good quality steel. In this respect it is similar to the current 0115.00 specification where all knife and spike threats are “commercial” quality. “Commercial E1” is only 24J, with an overtest impact energy of 36J allowing for 20mm penetration. This is equivalent to the old knife/spike 1.

The improvisation levels for testing armor against low-quality weapons start at 43J for E1 and go up to an overtest energy of 65J. (Interestingly, NIJ officials who gave the presentation noted that one of the challenges they faced was finding commercial sources of low-quality “improvised” weapons.)

Therefore, in a significant departure from the current specification, it appears that the only options in 0115.01 will be 1 knife/1 spike for the standard test blade, or 3 knife/3 spike for the significantly duller and weaker test implement.

NIJ officials who gave the presentation suggested that 0101.07, 0123.00, and 0115.01 will likely be released by the end of 2023. There will be a transition period during which 0101.06 and 0115.00 will be phased out, and the new NIJ CPL will not be activated for at least a year after the new specifications are released.

E. Greene, J. Horlick, DA Longhurst, LL Miller, C. Robinson, and RA Sundstrom, “NIJ Standards for Ballistic Resistance of Bulletproof Vests and Puncture Resistance of Bulletproof Vests: New Developments,” 16th International Symposium on Bulletproof Vest Systems 2023, Dresden, Germany, September 11-15, 2023.

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