Different Methods of Testing Bulletproof Vests

So, how is body armor tested? The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) conducts and oversees all of the tests and results for the body armor gear. Inspectors observe as shooters fire different guns and ammunition at a firing range inside a certified lab. Seven sensors are used to test the results.

body armor NIJ Test

There is a great way to find out how the NIJ conducts the tests with the manufacturers. The NIJ is a government office, and the information is secure and trustworthy from their website, which is updated regularly. If anyone questions whether these tests should be conducted or not, they can ask themselves if they trust a vest that is not tested after they are shipped off to retail or hand-delivered to military or law enforcement agencies?

A Little About the NIJ and How They Test Body Armor

The body armor manufacturers must conduct a compliance test with the NIJ once completed in the factories. NIJ performs the compliance test, and they make the standards and stipulations. In other words, the NIJ holds the cards when it comes to approving the body armor or not. Labeling and workmanship requirements are mandatory and must be met in compliance according to the NIJ standards. There are multiple follow-up testing to ensure the bulletproof vest is no less than 100 percent safe for law enforcement officers and all who wear them. There is no room for error. 

Over a five-year time frame, there are no less than six follow-up tests completed with the body armor. The inspectors check to ensure the manufacturer’s products are the same components and grade as the samples provided. When the sample proves to be the replica of the body armor from the manufacturer, it moves on to the next process. Once they pass this first form of inspection, ballistic testing commences. Ballistic testing is performed by the NIJ’s Criminal Justice Testing & Evaluation Consortium. The sample is evaluated to determine if the body armor is safe to prevent damage to the bulletproof vest sent out to their destinations. 

The Process of Ballistic Testing

Bulletproof vests are the personal protective equipment or PPE of law enforcement and are the difference between life or death. Ballistic testing is firing the ammunition from different firearms to ensure none of the ammunition goes through the body armor. The purpose of a bulletproof vest is to stop a bullet from penetrating an officer’s body or anyone who wears it. There is no way to stop the bullet pressure when it makes contact, but the body armor will not allow it to go through the vest, keeping the officer safe and alive. The test is performed indoors at a firing range within a lab. Measurements recorded during the test are performed with NIJ- and CAST-approved equipment. 

The equipment used in the process has different purposes and are as follows:

  • FARO Laser Scanners
  • FARO Point Probes
  • Doppler Radar
  • High-speed cameras
  • Velocity measuring equipment

Every bit of equipment measures the speed of the bullet and the pressure at the moment of impact. Dummies or other forms of targets are used in the firing range, and distances are considered. The body armor is placed over the target, and the ammunition should never pass through the vest. Data is taken throughout the tests and compared with the stipulations which must be met. 

The Different Types of Testing

There are also different types of tests performed during the process of certification.

  • Tests for spheres, cubes, RCCs, FSPs, etc.
  • Fragmentation tests low velocity 
  • Small- and medium-caliber threats 
  • Threats for stab-proof vests
  • Non-lethal threats 
  • Blast testing for explosives

Nothing can withstand a blast or explosion, but the data retrieved from the body armor’s test is essential to know the outcome. Every other test, except for the blast testing, should never pass through the body armor. Each test is dictated upon different scenarios that law enforcement agencies may face daily. 

The Manufacturer’s Role in the Testing Process 

One thing to remember is the manufacturer has a vital role to play in the ballistic testing process. The main things they handle are as follows:

  • Register with the testing program.
  • Submit application documents for the body armor in testing.
  • Send model samples of the armor to a laboratory approved by the NIJ. 
  • Comply with a follow-up test and inspection. 
  • Declare a time frame of ballistic warranty.

Testing At Approved Labs

NIJ requires body armor models testing for NIJ compliance must get certified through an approved laboratory. An approved lab must:

  • Be supported by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Must meet the international standards for laboratory technical competence and quality management.
  • Meet the requirements to undergo the body armor tests within the NIJ standards. 
  • Must be a third-party, independent laboratory and perform all body armor compliance testing.
  • Must be free of all conflicts of interest and have independent relationships from other organizations, clients, contractors, and affiliates

Protection from Different Scenarios

Different task force agencies will take part in different dangerous scenarios. There is no telling how bad a particular situation is until law enforcement enters the point of no return. Nothing is more important than keeping each individual alive and unharmed in each operation they partake. The tests performed by the NIJ is all that keeps the body armor in perfect condition. Any defects must get picked up and reported immediately. There are no exceptions to this rule.

With knowledge comes common sense. The bulletproof vest will stop a bullet. At the same time, it will prevent a knife attack where the body armor covers the vital organs. It can be compared to the Renaissance Era with knights and their body armor. The only difference is today’s law enforcement is not covered in metal all over the body. Only the chest area and back are fully protected. A bullet can penetrate other areas of the body that is not covered with the body armor. Helmets and face shields are also part of the PPE. 

What Happens To a Person Shot with Body Armor

When a person gets shot when they are wearing their body armor properly, the damage depends on how close they were to the open fire. The person will have some form of injury from bruises, cracked ribs, scratches, or red marks. Close range shots will break or fracture the ribs, but the person will not die. The bullet will not penetrate the flesh, and the internal organs will remain safe.

People and situations in movies are not the same as in real life. Blanks are used in films, but the stunt person will still have body armor for full protection. Blanks at close range are dangerous without protection. Some movie stars have died due to accidental close-range shootings with blanks. The movies are not real. When a sting operation occurs, there are real injuries, lives are lost, and some families lose their loved ones. 

Certifications and Distribution After Testing 

It is up to the manufacturers and NIJ to keep all military personnel and law enforcement agencies alive and safe with the highest quality products available and tests performed. Once the certification process is completed, the bulletproof vests go out for distribution. It is up to each individual to provide the proper maintenance and care for their PPE and report any damages immediately to their superiors.

The manufacturers place warranties, and any defects noticed will have the bulletproof vest replaced immediately at no extra costs to the departments who use them. Everyone is properly trained as to how to put on the vests. It must be worn properly to work effectively. A bulletproof vest will ensure the person wearing it that they will go back home safely to their families.


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Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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