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Body Armor Classifications

Body armor is not bulletproof. Soft body armor, for example, will not stop most centerfire rifle rounds. An industry rule of thumb is to buy armor that protects a service member from his or her duty firearm. Even better is that body armor routinely and significantly over-protects. The best body armor in the world will not help people who are not wearing it.

The first step in selecting the appropriate protection level of body armor is to establish the level of protection that users need based on the realistic weapon threat they face. To date, body armor has not been known to fail to prevent the penetration of a bullet constituting a threat equal to or less than the protection rating of the armor. However, officers have died from wounds received from weapons or ammunition exceeding the rated protection of the armor.

NIJ Standard-0101.04 establishes six formal armor classification types, as well as a seventh special type.

Type I (.22 LR; .380 ACP). This armor protects against .22 long rifle lead round nose (LR LRN) bullets, with nominal masses of 2.6 g (40 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 320 m/s (1050 ft/s) or less, and against .380 ACP full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN), with nominal masses of 6.2 g (95 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less. Type I body armor is light. This is the minimum level of protection every officer should have, and the armor should be routinely worn at all times while on duty. Type I body armor was the armor issued during the NIJ demonstration project in the mid-1970s. Most agencies today, however, because of increasing threats, opt for a higher level of protection.

Type II-A (9mm; .40 S&W). This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 332 m/s (1090 ft/s) or less, and .40 S&W caliber full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullets, with nominal masses of 11.7 g (180 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 312 m/s (1025 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against Type I threats. Type II-A body armor is well suited for full-time use by police departments, particularly those seeking protection for their officers from lower velocity 9mm and 40 S&W ammunition.

Type II (9mm; .357 Magnum). This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FMJ RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 358 m/s (1175 ft/s) or less, and .357 Magnum jacketed soft point (JSP) bullets, with nominal masses of 10.2 g (158 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against Type I and Type IIA threats. Type II body armor is heavier and more bulky than either Types I or II-A. It is worn full time by officers seeking protection against higher velocity .357 Magnum and 9mm ammunition.

Type III-A (High Velocity 9mm; .44 Magnum). This armor protects against 9mm full metal jacketed round nose (FJM RN) bullets, with nominal masses of 8.0 g (124 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less, and .44 Magnum jacketed hollow point (JHP) bullets, with nominal masses of 15.6 g (240 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 427 m/s (1400 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against most handgun threats, as well as the Type I, II-A, and II threats. Type III-A body armor provides the highest level of protection currently available from concealable body armor and is generally suitable for routine wear in many situations. However, users located in hot, humid climates may need to evaluate the use of Type III-A armor carefully.

Type III (Rifles). This armor protects against 7.62mm full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullets (U.S. military designation M80), with nominal masses of 9.6 g (148 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 838 m/s (2750 ft/s) or less. It also provides protection against Type I through III-A threats. Type III body armor is clearly intended only for tactical situations when the threat warrants such protection, such as barricade confrontations involving sporting rifles.

Type IV (Armor Piercing Rifle). This armor protects against .30 caliber armor piercing (AP) bullets (U.S. military designation M2 AP), with nominal masses of 10.8 g (166 gr), impacting at a minimum velocity of 869 m/s (2850 ft/s) or less. It also provides at least single-hit protection against the Type I through III threats. Type IV body armor provides the highest level of protection currently available. Because this armor is intended to resist "armor piercing" bullets, it often uses ceramic materials. Such materials are brittle in nature and may provide only single-shot protection, since the ceramic tends to break up when struck. As with Type III armor, Type IV armor is clearly intended only for tactical situations when the threat warrants such protection.

Bulletproof and bullet resistant vests NIJ Flexible Level III & IV High Power Rifle Body Armor, are subject to the export licensing authority of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Defense Trade Controls.




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