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Armour Levels

Which Protection Level Do You Need?

Protection levels set for body armour vary across the world, based on local standards. Two widely accepted model guidelines exist in the UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards.

HOSDB and NIJ frequently collaborate, sharing testing methodologies. The result is that pieces of body armour passing standards established by HOSDB will also pass equivalent NIJ thresholds. The institutions have developed strict standards encompassing the three basic types of attack: stab, spike, and ballistic. Keep in mind that body armour does not offer the wearer protection against attack types that it is not designed to resist. A stab proof vest will not halt a ballistic projectile, while a bullet proof vest will be ineffective against a knife or bottle attack.

A worldwide leader in body armour ballistics testing, NIJ undertakes a comprehensive battery of tests in defining body armour standards, publishing details of their findings. These standards cover the range of protection afforded by various bullet proof vests, from hand gun rounds to armour-piercing rifle rounds. HOSDB maintains an international reputation for expertise in stab and spike testing. Like NIJ, the organization publishes details of tests performed on different vests, as well as levels of protection attained.

Body armour standards define the protection levels provided against specific threats, also informing the user of the the intensity of attack it will resist. For example, the level of protection a bullet proof vest offers against a ballistic weapon of specific velocity is highly contingent upon the level of certification it has received. In the same way, a stab proof vest only offers effective protection up to the level of threat it has been designed to withstand. 

A Simple Guide To Ballistic Protection Levels

Each piece of body armour will feature an easy to read code that shows the basic details of the protection it provides. These codes are made up of the type of protection the body armour offers, for example NIJ ballistic protection, and the level of protection it provides, for example Level IIIa.

An NIJ Level II bullet proof vest will provide protection against regular powered 9mm handguns, up to .357 Magnums. A bullet proof vest with NIJ Level IIIa protection will protect against the same threats as an NIJ Level II vest, and in addition will stop up to a .44 Magnum and 9mm Sub-Machine gun. Because of the increased protection it offers a Level IIIa bullet proof vest will be heavier and more bulky than a Level II bullet proof vest, as it will have more layers of Kevlar.

NIJ Level II and NIJ Level IIIa soft body armour will protect you from handguns, but for protection against rifles you will require additional hard armour plates. Traditionally these are used in conjunction with Level IIIa bullet proof vests, and are available in Level III, which will protect against regular rifle rounds, and Level IV, which will provide protection from regular rifle rounds and also armour piercing rounds. These plates will add additional weight to a bullet proof vest, and so should only be used when required in extremely high risk situations.

NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels

Bullet proof vests are engineered to catch and halt the progress of the ballistic projectiles as they passthrough the outer layers of the vest. Trapping the bullet and deforming it, the web of fibres within the vest brings the bullet to a complete halt.

The two major ballistic protection levels are NIJ Level II, effective in resisting rounds from normal handguns; and NIJ Level IIIa vests, which are capable of halting Magnum rounds of high velocity. NIJ ballistic protection levels are comprehensive standards that give the wearer an accurate idea of the exact level of threat protection provided. 

NIJ Level II

NIJ Level IIIa

NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels For Hard Armour

Hard armour is designed with the specific needs of people placed in extreme risk situations, such as soldiers and tactical personnel, in mind. Traditionally utilized in conjunction with soft body NIJ Level IIIa armour, some hard armour models stand by themselves, and do not require any accompanying soft armour. NIJ Level IV’s protective capacities extend to armour piercing rounds, while NIJ Level III hard armour is effective against normal rifle rounds. 


NIJ Level IV

HOSDB Stab Protection Levels

Setting out to purchase a protective armour piece, many people initially assume that a bullet proof vest will be adequate in knife attack situations. This is unfortunately not the case. The manner in which a bullet pierces material is entirely different from the way a stabbing weapon does. While the fibres of the bullet proof vest catch and flatten the ballistic projectile, they do not deter the cutting action of the knife. The specifications of the stab proof vest are completely different from those of the bullet proof vest, and are resistant not only to knife attacks but to bottles and other physical assaults.

In contrast with traditional household blades, engineered blades present a serious threat to stab proof vest wearers. Any body armour piece that achieves stab proof vest rating must have resistance to engineered blades, which are designed to retain form and function even when forced into a block of wood.

In general, stab proof vests can more easily resist large-blade than small-blade threats. For this reason, body armour manufacturers design stab proof panels with protection against a wide range of blades, including those of standard Stanley knives, and 3-inch and 6-inch engineered blades. The stab resistant vest protection level thresholds determined by the UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch are shown below. 

HOSDB Stab 1

HOSDB Stab 2

HOSDB Spike Protection Levels

The term “spike” encompasses a number of weapon types that are rounded off to points, including syringes, needles, fencing foils, and ice picks. With a point of impact that is highly concentrated, the spiked weapon does not exert a cutting force on fabric like a blade. Instead, the point penetrates the body by passing through the body armour’s woven fibres. As a result, stab proof vests do not guard against attacks by spiked weapons.

 A spike proof vest contains no solid plates, but is rather composed of many layers of  flexible materials, which exert much more resistance to piercing than the stab proof vests. The UK Home Office Scientific Development Branch-determined spike proof vest protection levels are illustrated below. 

HOSDB Spike 2

Multi-Threat Vests

As society becomes increasingly violent, it is difficult for body armour wearers to predict the next threat they will face. Two decades ago the majority of police officers feared knife attacks, but recent years have witnessed an upsurge in gun violence, as well as increased threat levels posed by infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

In effectively guarding against these multiple types of threat, manufactures now design multi-threat body armour pieces. These vests combine a number of distinct threat resistance qualities, for example stab and spike protection, or stab and bullet protection. Panel construction principles vary depending on the level and type of protection the piece of body armour provides. Multi-threat vests will provide an equivalent level of protection against specific threats as single-threat vests of the same NIJ or HOSB rating. 

Fragmentation Protection

Our hard armour is designed to provide wearers with added fragmentation protection, reducing the threat of injury from the high-velocity shrapnel and fragments generated by a bomb when it explodes.

Employing NATO’s internationally accepted STANAG 2920 standard, our body armour pieces are extensively tested to ensure they meet required protection thresholds. Tests include measuring the damage exerted by FSP (Fragment Simulating Projectiles) shot at the vest at a number of velocities. Through analysis of this data, the maximum velocity at which the body armour will protect the wearer from fragment impact is determined.