There is a scientific method to testing bulletproof vests. It is a method that is meant to determine if a vest can protect you from being killed by a bullet. It’s a complete test, one that cannot be cheated or gamed. A test that will give the right answer to the question “Will this bulletproof vest keep me safe?”
This method was decided upon and is kept constant by the National Institute of Justice. The test standard is called NIJ Standard-0101.06 - Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor. I will summarize what the test consists of, and how it is a great measurement of the effectiveness of bulletproof vests.
Who: Almost all military suppliers worldwide use the NIJ testing procedure to verify their vests. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. 1. It ensures that vests from one country will be the same as vests from another. 2. It keeps other countries from having to invest in researching and developing their own standard, when the US standard is already working and useful. 3. It is simple and effective.
Why: A standardized tests allows you, the buyer of a bulletproof vest, to be certain that the vest you buy will work as expected. Bulletproof vests are serious business. A standardized test eliminates marketing-speak and other half-truths from the equation. Does the vest pass the test or not? To what level does it pass? No other information matters.
In the words of the NIJ, “Body armor manufacturers and purchasers may use this standard to help determine whether specific armor models meet the minimum performance standards and test methods... This will help to assure that the armor models will meet the minimum performance standards for use by the criminal justice community.”
How: The testing is done by placing body armor in front of a clay panel. The body armor is then shot with a weapon at an angle perpendicular to the armor surface. After the shot, the depth of the divot left in the clay is measured. If the depth isn’t too large and no part of the projectile penetrated the armor, the test is passed. If the armor is perforated or the divot is too deep, the test is failed.
How Many: A complete compliance test is done using no less than 14 complete sets of body armor. The armor is supplied in a larger size (11 units) and a smaller size (3 units) for the test. Armor that is being tested for Types IIA, II and IIIA must have 28 complete sets of body armor supplied for the test. They use a lot of body armor to be sure vests are truly safe.
Is All Of The Armor Tested New? It all starts the test new, but before some of the armor is shot it is “conditioned”. It is put in a water bath and soaked, then dried before testing.
What type of clay is used in the test panel? How do they know it is consistent? The clay used in the test panel is quite highly specified. Part of the test is to drop a steel sphere from a specific height to make sure the clay deflects just the right amount under the right force. This tests the clay to make sure it is the same as all previous tests. The temperature of the test is controlled as well. It is conducted at 75 degrees.
How many times is each vest shot? Each vest is shot 6 times per test.
How far away is the gun from the vest? For handgun rounds, the gun is five meters; for rifle rounds, the gun is 15 meters away.
Is the vest shot everywhere? There is a pattern for the shots. Four of them are in the chest area and two are done two inches from the edge of the panel.
How is the effectiveness of the vest determined? Two things judge the effectiveness of the vest. The first is what bullet was fired at it. The second is how deep of a divot did the test leave in the clay surface. 44mm (1.73 inches) is the maximum depth allowed.
Can you conduct this test yourself? Probably not. The bullets used need to strike the vest at a specific velocity, which is measured to ensure compliance. The test labs that do this test probably load their rounds specifically for this test procedure. If you were making a large quantity of vests and wanted to be able to conduct a “proof” test to sample the quality of the product you are producing, you could create a simpler version of the this test.
What bullets are used for the test? Here is a chart of the different threat levels and the bullets that are used for them.
We also do some informal testing. These tests are great to determine if a test will pass the absolute standard and are a great way to know if the vest will work when it is needed, but sometimes people have additional curiosity, so we have also conducted the following informal tests. We hope you like the videos.
What bullets will the Bulletsafe vest stop?
As you can see, the bulletsafe bulletproof vest stopped everything from a .22LR to a .45ACP shot out of a long-barrel.
How many times can you shoot a bulletproof vest before you penetrate it completely?
First we shot the vest with 6 different handgun rounds, then we shot it 47 times with a .22LR. Even after that, we didn't penetrate the vest completely, but we did go through enough layers that the vest didn't seem as protective. After turning the vest around and starting fresh, we shot it with 40 caliber Smith & Wesson rounds. On the 14th round, we shot low and missed the protective fibers. The vest had withstood 13 rounds from a 40 caliber without penetration. Bulletproof vests are pretty cool!
What does it feel like to be shot while wearing a bulletproof vest?
It hurts. Depending on the caliber of the weapon, being shot while wearing a bulletproof vest is like being smacked in the chest with a rubber mallet. Larger rounds probably feel closer to being hit with a baseball bat. It probably hurts a lot, but it is much better than being shot.
Summary Bulletproof vests are highly tested and that is a good thing. You are trusting your life to your vest, you'll want one that you can be sure will work when the time comes.