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Body Armor Testing Process

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As you may know, no body armor is 100% bulletproof. Depending on its certification level, it instead provides different levels bullet resistance. To ensure its effectiveness against specific ballistic threats, each body armor plate must be carefully and thoroughly tested. This testing process determines whether or not a body armor panel will keep you alive and stop certain caliber bullets shot at certain velocities. The National Institute of Justice is the only testing authority nationally recognized by United States law enforcement and the military.

The NIJ sets the standards and testing protocols for body armor ratings and levels. This test standard is calledBallistic Resistance of Body Armor NIJ Standard-0101.06. The standard set by the NIJ appoints the threat level, caliber and velocity that body armor plates can effectively protect against. To earn a specific NIJ rating, the body armor plate must not be punctured by the bullet during testing protocols.

NIJ Levels are ballistic ratings range from the weakest, level I, to the strongest, level IV.

The most common body armor on the market is NIJ Level III rated body armor. If this is the right hardness level for your needs, check out ourSpartan™ Omega™ AR500 Body Armor constructed from lab certified AR500 steel. If you’re looking for something with a little more protection but without too much added weight, consider ourAR550 Body Armor Swimmers Cut. It is undergone special threat testing to exceed Level III standards with a 10% increase in ballistic core hardness, and making itcertified level III+. It will defeat higher velocity threats such as XM193, M855 and M80.

Body Armor Testing Procedures

To earn an NIJ certification, manufacturers must have body armor plates tested at an NIJ-approved facility. It is here that body armor is put through ballistics, endurance and stressful conditions testing. NIJ testing is conducted at a standard 75 degrees. During NIJ testing, the body armor panel is placed in front of a clay panel backing. To test the clay panel, a steel sphere is dropped from a standard height to ensure the panel deflects a specific amount under a specific force.

The Shoot Pack

The body armor plate is placed in a fabric envelope along with Kevlar layers that replicate aplate carrier. This is referred to as a “shoot pack.”

The shoot pack is then pressed firmly into the clay panel to establish a uniform fit. Next, the shoot pack is removed and the clay panel is scanned by lasers to provide a reference to compare deformations against those found after the body armor plate has been shot.

After the shoot pack is secured back onto the clay panel, the body armor panel is shot with the specified caliber at a specified velocity.

Firing Projectiles

Once the clay panel is verified, the body armor panel is shot straight-on with a bullet. The dent impression in the clay is then measured to ensure that it isn’t too deep. If the impression is shallow enough and the body armor panel hasn’t been penetrated by the projectile, the panel has passed the test. If the body armor panel is penetrated or if the dent in the clay is too deep, the body armor does not pass the test. The maximum depth allowed is 43mm.

Most NIJ compliance testing is done using 14 or more sets of body armor. At least 11 larger sized panels are tested, along with three or more smaller sized panels. For levels IIA, II and IIIA, 28 sets of body armor panels are tested. Some panels are tested as is, while others are soaked in water and dried before testing.

Each body armor panel must withstand six shots. Four of the shots are in the chest area and two of the shots are placed two inches inside the edge of the body armor panel. For handgun rounds, body armor is shot from five meters away. For rifle rounds, the panels are shot from 15 meters away.


The body armor panel is then removed and inspected. The indentation in the clay is then measured with the laser system to make sure it falls below the allowed 43mm.

Should any round penetrate the body armor plate and break the Kevlar fibers on the rear of the shoot pack, it is considered complete penetration and the body armor plate fails certification.

NIJ Certified Spartan Body Armor

Spartan Armor Systems is a leading body armor manufacturer and supplier for law enforcement, military members, first responders and civilians. All Spartan body armor is NIJ certified for quality assurance and compliance. Browse all of our American-made,NIJ certified Spartan body armor here.

For more information about body armor or tactical equipment, call us at 520-396-3335 or send us a message using ouronline contact form.


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