We will now continue our discussion on Body Armor from an earlier article. Specifically, we addressed some common terms that are used in ballistic testing of body armor: V0, V50, and Back Face Signature (BFS for short). The purpose behind this was to inform our discussion for this week’s topic: Why body armor test protocols have been established, and why you can’t trust most of these videos showing ‘ballistic tests’ of body armor on the internet.
Let’s address the elephant in the room shall we? If you are buying body armor from someone who claims a video looking like our example above proves their body armor was ‘tested’, you should demand your money back and report them to the better business bureau for fraud. The reason I say that is there is no repeatability of the test possible, based on what is shown in the picture.
When body armor tests are conducted by the NIJ or Other Governmental Agencies, the entire test is set up to ensure repeatability. It also ensures that the body armor is consistently tested at locations that are identified as the weakest points of the armor plate. The armor is given the worst case scenario: A threat projectile engaging with zero degrees of obliquity (Gun-target line is perpendicular to the target) which ensures that armor design is defeating the projectile under its most stressing conditions.
Each body armor tested under NIJ standards will have multiple shots placed into it. The majority of the tests are perpendicular, but at least one shot will be at an angle, depending upon the test plan. The average test range setup looks something like below:
For legitimate ballistic testing, a test barrel set up on a universal receiver, and mounted to a fixed base will be used. The test gun is fired by solenoid, rather than by human interaction. Between the end of the test gun, and the target is measured. It’s not as attention-grabbing as the guy shooting the plate from the standing with his SVD. But if you remove the variables of a human actually firing the rounds, it ensures round placement is consistent from shot to shot. A consistent distance between the test gun and target are kept. this ensures the muzzle velocity from the test barrel is as close to standard as possible. Between the target and the test barrel, are two sets of sensors that are mounted to capture the projectile’s actual velocity when it impacts on the target. there will also be some form of capture to ensure that the yaw of the round is accounted for. Moreover, there is a witness box usually placed over the target to record any spall that may come off the armor. I illustrate all of this to show you what lengths the NIJ standards go to eliminate as many variables as possible. The reason for this is to ensure that the body armor is tested in a consistent manner so that comparison between tests is possible. For the purchasing agent, all of this ensures you are getting a data set that you can have a reasonable expectation that a V50 or V0 from one vendor’s test report can be used to compare another vendor’s product, so long as it is from an NIJ certified lab at a minimum.
The other thing that you don’t see a legitimate lab doing, is shooting the vest on a mannequin. As we mentioned in our last armor article, RP #1 clay is the industry standard for ensuring consistent recording of back face signature. Having the body armor draped over a dummy might look cool, but it doesn’t show you how well the body armor did at stopping the round. If the body armor stops the projectile, but it takes 6 inches of back face signature to do it, it will potentially cause internal organs to rupture and break bones.
To sum up, we’ve discussed how body armor is tested. As a purchasing agent, you need to understand this so that you get legitimate information from your vendors so you can make educated decisions about what armor meets the needs of your customers.