Many people throughout the law enforcement community became concerned recently regarding the product confidence issues raised in a vague and incomplete partial report of a "frangible" round that had supposedly penetrated a ballistic vest supplied by a police agency in the San Diego (CA) area.
The report claimed that the frangible round split into two pieces upon impact with the vest and then supposedly penetrated through the panel and into the ballistic gel behind it, although no information was given as to the caliber, type, weight or velocity of the round, nor was any other information given regarding the type, Threat Level, manufacturer, condition or style of the vest or the conditions under which the test was conducted. It went on to say that they then fired a 9mm round at the panel, which the vest stopped easily.
While this "report" presented no credible, verifiable evidence of product failure, the irresponsible dispatch of the story over the Internet by someone from the San Diego area law enforcement community had the effect of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater; armor manufacturers and the NIJ, who sets the performance standards for ballistic armor were deluged by inquiries from law enforcement personnel regarding the validity of this ""Urban Myth". Response was strong enough for the NIJ to issue an announcement on August 05, 2002 stating that they were aware of the claim, and were scheduling independent, testing to confirm or deny the report. We look forward to the announcement of their independent results.
In the meantime, Sgt. J. R. Wilson of the Orange County (CA) Sheriff's Department Firearms Training Unit contacted their armor supplier, U.S. Armor Corporation of Santa Fe Springs, CA, and asked company president Steve Armellino to provide ballistic armor samples for a legitimate, monitored test of the effect of frangible rounds against current issue armor, using ballistic gelatin and chronographs in a controlled environment. Sgt. Wilson also contacted Mr. Pat Dooley, Western Regional Representative for the Winchester Ammunition Company, who supplied the factory ammunition and some of the other scientific equipment required for the tests.
The technical information and full results of the test are available, but the end result is that a variety of 9mm and 40 caliber frangible ammunition was shot under controlled conditions against four current models of NIJ Certified armor packages ranging from NIJ Levels II-A and III-A, encompassing both the low and high ends of the NIJ Threat Level spectrum. Sgt. Wilson also pointed out that all of the armor was shot in the proper manner, placed in front of the ballistic gelatin. None of the rounds were fired through heavy clothing or drywall prior to impacting the vest panels.
None of the bullets that were fired totally penetrated any of the armor panels, which would have surely represented a life-threatening injury to a person. Several of the shots did not penetrate any layers of the vest packages at all, and the heaviest incursion was into the 8th layer of a 19-layer lightweight Level II-A panel. Other incursions were into the 2nd, 3rd and 4th layers of 28, 18 and 20 layer panels.
As an added test, two of the Winchester "SXT" 9mm rounds, also of concern to some police agencies, were shot against vests. The 9mm 127 grain +P+ SXT was shot against a 28-layer GSF III-A vest, which stopped the round in the 8th layer of the armor panel. The 9mm 147 grain SXT was shot against a 19 layer TV-IIA, an ultra-thin and lightweight vest, stopping it in the 3rd layer of the panel.
U.S. Armor Corporation is pleased to have been able to assist in the conducting of this legitimate, thorough testing, and wishes to thank Sgt. Wilson and the Orange County Sheriff's Department for the opportunity to set the record straight and disseminate correct information to the law enforcement community. We would also like to thank Mr. Dooley and the Winchester Ammunition Company for their invaluable assistance with the project, and look forward to seeing the NIJ / OLES test results.
Sgt. J. R. Wilson @ Orange County Sheriff's Department: (714) 538-0173 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Georg L. Olsen @ U.S. Armor Corporation: (800) 443-9798 / goUSArmor@aol.com
Pat Dooley @ Winchester Ammunition: (714) 630-6436