What to expect from the NIJ's revised body armor standard

NIJ Standard 0101.07 – which will replace NIJ Standard 0101.06 – is expected to be rolled out by the end of 2018


The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) currently is revising its standards for the testing and certification of ballistic protection gear. NIJ Standard 0101.07 – which will replace NIJ Standard 0101.06 – is expected to be rolled out by the end of 2018. What do these changes mean to law enforcement?

More standard standards

The NIJ is working with other government agencies to ensure that they are all following the same playbook. This means that NIJ, the U.S. Army, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and others have been cooperating to harmonize laboratory test procedures and practices in ASTM Subcommittee E54.04, which addresses personal protective equipment (PPE).

It is up to you as a cop or chief to understand the new threat levels, how they apply to your situation and what specifications belong in your next contract. (Photo/Courtesy)
It is up to you as a cop or chief to understand the new threat levels, how they apply to your situation and what specifications belong in your next contract. (Photo/Courtesy)

One of the best changes in the new version is that the threat levels have been renamed from unintelligible Roman numerals like II and IIIA to HG1 and HG2, and from III and IV to RF1 and RF3. A new intermediate RF2 was added. The lowest soft armor threat level called IIA – which includes 9mm at 1225 ft/s and .40 S&W – was dropped from the new standard. Bonus points for figuring out what HG and RF stand for – much easier, right?

Another important change is that the test round velocities for conditioned armor (simulating that it has been worn) are now the same as those for new armor. For example, Level IIIA specifies that the .44 Magnum round is shot at 1340 ft/s for conditioned armor and at 1430 ft/s for new armor. In the new standard, the velocity for both conditioned and new armor is the same at 1430 ft/s. 9mm goes from 1245 ft/s conditioned and 1305 ft/s new to 1305 ft/s for both. More like real life, and also raising the bar for body armor manufacturers.

More or less to read

Unlike the current and previous versions of the NIJ standard, which are comprehensive standalone documents, revision 7 will be made shorter by incorporating a substantial amount of information either by reference or by moving it to annexes.

Of little interest to police, but of great interest to the testing labs, is a discussion of test barrels. In revision 7, the discussion has been removed and a reference to external documents published by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) takes its place.

Because of the threat level changes, the missing section discussing the ballistic threat levels identified by U.S. law enforcement with associated ammunition is a must-read before issuing your next contract.

Some changes make the document harder to read, but more detailed at the same time. For example, revision 6 has multiple tables that each list a stated requirement for all of the threat levels, such as fair hits. Revision 7 embeds the requirements in separate paragraphs, making rated level comparisons somewhat harder.

Testing armor for female cops

A major and positive change in revision 7 over revision 6 is that it finally recognizes that men and women have different armor fitting, and therefore testing, needs. In revision 6, section 7.8.1 has a single paragraph that mentions testing a woman’s armor. In revision 7, an entire annex is devoted to it, including specific test shot placement above, below, and in between the armor’s bust cups.

Next steps

Most of the changes seem to affect only the manufacturers and testing labs – but how the manufacturers respond to the changes can mean the difference between a life saved or a family in mourning. It is up to you as a cop or chief to understand the new threat levels, how they apply to your situation and what specifications belong in your next contract.

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