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What Are Body Armor/Ballistic Armor Standards?
For body armor as for many other products, there are objective and independent standards organizations that help consumers to have confidence that the product they are purchasing will be safe and effective. Because it is so critical and because inferior body armor is likely to result in injury or death, the buyer is well-served by insuring that the body armor they are buying enjoys certification from a large and independent standards organization.
The VARANUS brand of body armor by Tactical Elite Systems is certified as being in compliance with the standards of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research, development and evaluation agent of the United States Department of Justice. NIJ certifies many manufacturers, not just VARANUS. All ballistic products offered for sale by Tactical Elite Systems, makers of VARANUS, are fully certified as being in compliance and listed by NIJ on their website.
Currently, the standard used for body armor is NIJ 0101.06, often abbreviated as “NIJ 06”. This is the latest standard. Body armor firms and products that are compliant to this standard are listed on the NIJ website, so there is no need for a user to accept a company’s claim on its own. The product must be on the website and the provider just have a Letter of Compliance from the NIJ in order for the product to be considered as in compliance with the standard. Using the NIJ website to find compliant products is easy and free of charge. Simply go to the website. Then click on Compliant Product List. Then click on Ballistic Armor.
The Ballistic Armor Compliant Product List is a listing of all compliant products. Ballistic Armor is listed by company, product name and other filters including Threat Level.
The process of getting one’s body armor or ballistic armor product listed is as follows. The manufacturer sends the panels to a laboratory certified by the National Institute of Justice. The panels are the tested using various calibers, various velocities and various strike angles. This is done while the panels are adored to a large clay block which simulates flesh. Once it is shown that the vest is not penetrated by the rounds, the back face signature is measured. Bak face signature is the depth of the indentation made in the clay by the projectile. For the purposes of NIJ 010106, this depth may not exceed 44 mm for the vest to pass testing.
Testing is conducted on both new and conditioned body armor. Conditions means that the panels have been subjected to submersion in water or exposed to heat and tumbling. Conditions panels simulate panels that have been in use in the field for some time.
Once the test results indicating that the ballistic armor panel has passed have been received, they are submitted to the NIJ and a letter of compliance is issued to the manufacturer.
Once one knows where to look, there is no further reason to be victimized by fraudulent purveyors of body armor or ballistic armor. Unfortunately there are many of them, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Here are some of the methods they employ:
1 Bait and Switch. A vendor will often have one ballistic armor panel certified and listed on the NIJ Ballistic Armor Compliant Product List and then try to sell the user another cheaper vest using panels that are not certified. Always ensure that the panel being purchased is the one that is certified. It should say so plainly on the label and the model should be listed in the Ballistic Armor Compliant Product List. If doubts persist, ask the manufacturer for a letter stating the mode in question is a compliant product.
2. According to NIJ standards. Terms like this are often used by unscrupulous vendors to sell inferior body armor that probably could not pass the NIJ testing. They will claim that the ballistic armor panel was “tested in accordance with NIJ protocol” or words to such effect. This is extremely misleading for two reasons. Only NIJ-certified labs are able to perform NIJ testing. Moreover, once achieving the NIJ certification, manufacturers are visited from time to time by NIJ representative who select panels at random to be retested. This ensures that the quality is maintained over time.
3. Expired or Off Warranty. Some unscrupulous vendors will sell expired or off warranty panels. Check the date of manufacture which appears on all NIJ compliant product. If it is older than 5 years (7 years in the case of VARANUS ballistic vests) the panel is no longer under warranty and probably should be destroyed. Of course, any liability coverage would be null and void in the case of expired body armor. Expired body armor should not be sold. Using it puts the user’s life in jeopardy.
4. Level II is as good as Level IIIA. Some vendors will claim that their cheaper Level II or even IIA body armor is as good as a Level IIIA vest. Of course, the reason is that the former contains less ballistic material and is this cheaper to manufacture. If Level II or IIA is as good as Level IIIA then they should have testing from an NIJ laboratory to support that claim.