Beyond the Standard: The Secret Strength of Spartan's AR550 NIJ Certified Body Armor
Shopping for body armor online can be like grocery shopping for produce. Yes, we know that sounds bizarre. And you're probably wondering how we're going to link steel and strawberries. But hear us out.
If you're looking for top-quality, pesticide-free food, you might connect with a farmer and trust the products he's selling you. Or you may instead look for the USDA organic label in the store.
In the same way, body armor manufacturers can design plates to a given standard without pursuing NIJ certification. However, the NIJ is the agency that sets the standards in the first place and issues certification for passing their rigorous criteria. NIJ certification and the armor's threat level are different, but related things.
In this article, we'll walk you through the meaning of NIJ certification and look at Spartan Armor's Single Curve Full Coat steel armor that is NIJ Certified Level III.
What is NIJ Certification?
During the 1970s, the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) dedicated millions of dollars to developing body armor, running widespread field tests on using Kevlar for police officers in various cities. The NIJ published the first version of its standard in 1972, and several revisions to follow. After decades of continued research, the NIJ published the current ballistic standard, 0101.06, Ballistic Resistance of Body Armor, in 2008.
The NIJ sets the standards and testing protocols you see associated with the different threat protection levels when browsing armor. Their testing evaluates what caliber and velocity each plate can defeat and assigns corresponding body armor classifications. But it’s not all about stopping the bullet’s penetration. They also check for protection against blunt force trauma.
Backface Deformation- People don’t always realize that when a fired round strikes a body-worn ballistic plate, the energy from that round needs to go somewhere. Since the body is on the other side of the plate, the internal organs absorb much of that energy. Therefore, the NIJ takes a measurement during testing called backface signature, also known as backface deformation. NIJ-certified cannot have a backface deformation measurement over 44mm (1.73 inches).
Spartan Armor Systems AR550 Steel
With that overview out of the way, we want to highlight some features of our NIJ-certified Level III steel plates. These plates protect against advanced rifle threats and have been special threat validated in an independent lab with NIJ credentials.
That higher "special threat" protection means these plates give you III+/RF2 protection. We covered that in a previous post if you're unfamiliar with the upcoming RF2 designation. So, although they come with the NIJ Certified Level III label, you can rest assured that the protection goes beyond its certification.
We had to use some specific materials and design features to achieve this rating. The first one we'll discuss is AR550 steel.
As you're shopping armor selections, you'll typically notice two popular options when it comes to steel: AR500 and AR550. Both are incredibly high-quality materials. But our NIJ-certified Level III steel plate is necessarily made of AR550 steel.
What is AR550 steel? AR550 steel achieves a score between 545 and 560 on the Brinnell Hardness Test, the standard test to determine the steel quality level. The core hardness of AR550 steel is a rare gem. It makes for budget-friendly body armor capable of defeating high-velocity threats.
Why AR550 steel and not AR500? We opted to certify the superior AR550 Level III+ armor at Level III to provide customers with additional special threat protection, including defense against 5.56 M855 Green Tip rounds.
Our Single Curve is commonly referred to as "MultiCurve" by other manufacturers. The Single Curve design provides the wearer comfort and mobility while remaining more affordable than our Advanced Triple Curve™ option.
Full Coat of Encapsaloc™ Material
The Encapsaloc™ material is a Spartan Armor innovation resulting from years of testing and modifying. We designed it to mitigate injuries resulting from spall and fragmentation. The formula we ended up with is the gold standard for frag protection in the industry.
While we offer products with a base coat, our full coat option is the one we’re discussing here. The base coat has an aesthetic appeal and protects the plate from the elements, but we always recommend the full coat anyway for alleviating the issue of fragmentation. The full coat of Encapsaloc™ makes the plate less than 0.5" thick while providing Level III+ Special Threat Testing, all at a reasonable cost.
Available in a Variety of Shapes and Sizes
While this is the only variation of steel Spartan Armor currently offered that is NIJ-certified, you can get it in multiple sizes. The sizes available are:
- 9.5”x12.5” ESAPI
- Other available options are:
- Shooters Cut- This cut features angles that allow the wearer better mobility, particularly of the arms.
- Swimmers Cut- An option for athletes, those with a smaller frame, or anyone wanting to run a lighter kit.
- Medium ESAPI Cut- The Medium ESAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert) cut is not as advanced as the others above, and may result in some limited mobility. But it is the standard choice, as it best suits a wide range of users.
- Side Plates- Option for flank protection available in 6”x6” (small) or 6” x8” (large).
For more information on selecting your body armor's right shape, size, and cut, check out our guide, Steel Core Body Armor: Selecting the Right Shape and Curve.
Spartan Armor Systems sets industry standards with our Level III+ protection, providing the best body armor solutions money can buy. With our commitment to quality and safety, we help you protect what’s yours.
While our AR550 steel body armor has a Level III NIJ 0101.06 certification label, it surpasses this standard by meeting the anticipated NIJ 0101.07 RF2 standards.
Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about your personal protection needs. To learn more, head to our NIJ Certified page to see all our NIJ-certified packages and plates.