Beefing up ballistic resistance

New NIJ standard carries harsher testing and advanced environmental conditioning to better protect the protectors

   However, the introduction of an updated standard does not invalidate body armor that was previously certified. In the report, John Morgan, deputy director for science and technology with the National Institute of Justice, states it is not necessary to immediately remove older certified armor from service. Manufacturers suggest agencies adhere to the formerly suggested (now part of the 0101.06 standard) five-year term of a body armor package as the basis for expiration and replacement time.

Flexing the armor's muscles

   Campbell says today's armor has come a long way since those he wore as a military policeman and later as an Oakland (Calif.) patrol supervisor and SWAT team leader.

   "My first vest was 100-percent Kevlar. It was square, maybe 13 inches by 13 inches on my chest and my back. It was very thick," says Campbell, now a director of ballistic protection sales with MSA. "It was like wearing a postage stamp." Since then, Campbell has worn a variety of different armor, including a Zylon-containing vest for nearly four years (before the aging and degradation problems with Zylon were recognized). He says over the 18 years he wore ballistic protective vests, he found that hybrid vests, such as MSA's KNX Ballistic Packages in Level II and IIIA, are his favorite. The newly certified vests use woven aramid as well as unidirectional aramid fibers, which makes them a hybrid.

   Several manufacturers have introduced NIJ-06-certified armor and are eager to flex the packages' ballistic muscles.

   In order to share information on its newly certified armor with the nation's law enforcement officers, Protective Products International (PPI) arranged several Body-Armor Shoot Events throughout July and August. The events, hosted by agencies in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, allowed officers to see the effectiveness of PPI's body armor against a variety of rounds in person.

   Sgt. Todd Wrage, training officer and host of the PPI shoot event that took place in Oshkosh, Wis., in early August, says the attendees were surprised by the protective capabilities they saw.

   "I think I can speak for everybody there when I say that we were actually all really impressed with the protective properties of the vest itself," Wrage says. "I actually fired two rounds with the .357 SIG, [with] the end of the muzzle touching the vest." Wrage adds the armor was not penetrated past the first five or six layers of the vest by the contact shots he fired.

   PPI's newly NIJ-tested model, DX-IIA, incorporates woven fabric utilizing Teijin Aramid's Twaron para-aramid fiber and DSM Dyneema's non-woven unidirectional Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene fiber.

Other protective abilities

   A new armor offering from Point Blank adds an extra layer of protection.

   The KXPIIIA ballistic model is available in both Point Blank Body Armor's Hi-Lite XP and Protective Apparel Corp. of America's (PACA's) Perform XP models. In addition to the benefits of the NIJ-06-certified armor, unique to the PACA and Point Blank packages is ThorShield technology, a durable, lightweight, conductive material lining. ThorShield completes electroshock or stun device circuits, protecting officers should a suspect attempt to use an electronic control device on them.

   Safariland's body armor marketing manager Angela Milligan explains that a big change officers will see in the NIJ-06 armor is the performance increase.

   Safariland's XT Series of concealable body armor covers the company's ballistic-only armor, or the armor that most officers wear. "Under the XT armor, the XP300 is more of a balanced offering between performance and comfort," Milligan says. "It's a little bit more pliable and flexible." Safariland also offers a hybrid design, the XP700, which according to the company is its high performance offering. Both of these packages are offered in a Level II and Level IIIA and in addition, XP300 includes a Level IIA.

Transition and adjustments

   While some agencies are getting the jump on the transition to new body armor packages, some may bide their time.

   As new models were first made available in June 2009, agencies might prefer to wait until more options are available for comparison.

   Foreman with Point Blank says a couple of factors play a part in the length of time an agency will take to procure newly certified armor and retire the old.

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