New Ballistic Armor Concept

Dec. 17, 2022
The Verco Materials UrbanShieldMH is put to the test.

It was a couple years ago at an IACP conference that I first saw the new concept ballistic armor from Verco Materials, LLC. It was like nothing I’d seen before and I didn’t understand—and was highly doubtful about—the engineering behind the design. After several conversations and gaining some understanding, I requested a test unit. The test unit I received was a newer variant of what I originally saw. I received the Verco Materials UrbanShieldMH model to test. It was received with the understanding that I had every intention of first wear testing it for comfort and maneuverability and then taking it to the range to test it under fire; that I would test at the range to and through what it was rated for. Both of these tests occurred, and I learned a lot through the process. I identified a lack of knowledge on my own part and how a misunderstanding/misperception can cause incorrect conclusions. To avoid passing that along in this write up, let’s first review some standards for ballistic armor.

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to view the digital edition. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

It’s important to understand that the testing performed to ascertain if the hard armor is acceptable to military and/or law enforcement is done under very specific and controlled conditions. Everything from the type of backing behind the armor to the ammunition, barrel length of weapon, projectile velocity, engagement distance, the distance between shot placement on the armor and how close to the edge a shot on the armor can be before it’s not considered a valid test round—all of these play a role.

Beyond that, more basically, it’s important to know that there’s a limit to the number of rounds any piece of armor is expected to stop and how close to each other the impact of those rounds on the armor can be. To expect a piece of armor—standard 10”x12” “hard” armor—to stop an unlimited number of rounds is unrealistic. Further, once that piece of armor has been impacted even once, it should be replaced as soon as possible and certainly before it’s trusted to stop more rounds. This is simple logic, folks. Once the armor has been impacted one time, it’s no longer functioning at 100% efficiency. Even recognizing that, no armor is tested to stop just one round and have that be considered “certified.” (NIJ makes an exception to this rule for Level IV armor.) Armor is tested in a wide variety of ways, with different calibers, at different distances and with number of rounds and spacing different depending on the test. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Different standards can require testing a different numbers of plates. The Verco Materials MotilityMH and UrbanShieldMH have received NIJ Certification under an “Administrative Clarification” as opposed to simple NIJ Standard Level III certification. The Administrative Clarification required testing 38 plates versus the 8 plates required for standard hard plate Level III testing.)

That given, upon receiving the test unit, my first goal was the wear testing for comfort and maneuverability. The more coverage and protection you get from the armor, the more comfort and maneuverability you trade off. Armor that stops everything can be made but you wouldn’t be able to move or shoot a weapon in return at the enemy, so a balance has to be found. The Verco Materials, LLC Extended Coverage vest is designed as an externally worn tactical vest. With four points of adjustment and manufactured to fit your body (custom fit), reasonable comfort is almost assured. My wear test included wearing the armor for two to four hours daily for almost three weeks. While this is a subjective perception, it was as comfortable as any tactical armor can be or has been in my experience. Covered with MOLLE panels front and rear, it’s ready to be your equipment platform while providing Level III (per NIJ testing: see more here: uploads/2021/02/NIJCertificationPerformance.pdf) +M855 and M43 coverage and protection. Satisfied with the comfort and maneuverability of the vest, I set off to the range to shoot it and verify what it would stop.

Prior to shoot testing it, I was told by representatives from Verco that it would withstand 5.56mm/.223 ammunition with no problem and that I was welcome to shoot it with any other rifle caliber I’d like. Verco wanted the results whether the vest stopped the rounds or not. When I asked about shooting it with handgun ammo they almost chuckled and said (paraphrase), “Have at it all you want.” I went to the range prepared to shoot it with 5.56mm, .45ACP, .40S&W, .357 Magnum and 9mm.

In multiple testing sessions (we had to go back because of my lack of knowledge and misinformation during the first test session) it passed all shooting to the standards used by DoD and NIJ within our capabilities of control. We did not have the necessary equipment to test projectile velocity and our backing material was a shoot dummy from Rubber Dummies. The test rifle used was a Battle Rifle Spectre 5.56mm AR-style rifle. The 5.56mm ammo was Black Hills OTM 77g. Engagement distance for the shooting was approximately three yards.

During the properly fired shot testing, the vest stopped, with no penetrations, three rounds of the specified ammo. Each shot was approximately three inches from any other. There were no signs of excessive backface deformation, but we can assume the Rubber Dummy absorbs such quite well and doesn’t stay “dented.” That’s why the testing standards specify a clay backing which we didn’t have available.

In addition to those three 5.56mm shots, targeted on a side panel to keep them separate, we also fired five shots onto the vest main area of the front panel from each of the handguns we had available. That additional shoot testing included:

  • Five rounds of .45ACP 230g ball ammo from a Springfield Armor Loaded 1911
  • Five rounds of 9mm 124g ball ammo from a Glock Model 17
  • Five rounds of .40S&W 155g ball ammo from a Beretta 96F
  • Five rounds of .357 Magnum 125g jacketed lead ammo from a S&W Model 66 4”

Each group of five rounds was fired into a separate segment of the vest: upper right, upper left, lower right, lower left. We avoided shooting rounds into the center of the front vest panel with the handguns. The armor stopped all solid impact rounds. One of the .357 Magnum rounds was fired at an oblique angle of about 45° (this was accidental as the target turned on its stand in between shots) and hit the vest within about 1/2” of the edge, skimming the armor more than impacting it. That round “went through” but NOT through the armor. Instead, it went through the outer shell that holds the armor together, skimmed the armor material itself and then exited out the shell near the seam.

After having tested the armor through all reasonable limits and beyond, we set out to test it to failure. Ensuring that it was securely mounted on our test Rubber Dummy, we loaded a 20-round magazine of the Black Hills OTM 77g ammo and positioned ourselves about five yards from the armor. With full intent, we fired three rounds within a two-inch group in the center of the front armor plate. Understand that this surpasses the standard of “three rounds not closer than two inches of each other.” We intentionally fired three in a tighter group. No round was more than one inch from each of the other two. The vest still stopped them. We fired another into that same tight space. The vest still stopped it. We fired a fifth round through the middle of that tight group—and finally managed to force a failure with that fifth round going through the armor.

Leaving the armor in place, we emptied the rest of that magazine around the front of the armor, and then loaded another magazine and shot it some more. With the exception of the one spot we fired the tight five-shot group into, the vest continued to stop impacts across the width and height of the front armor panel everywhere it hadn’t been previously impacted. That left us with ammo and a clean rear armor panel, and we simply couldn’t have that—so we turned the dummy around and put about 20 rounds onto the rear panel, spread out haphazardly. It stopped them all.

At the conclusion of all testing, we had confirmed that the armor would stop ammunition fired within the confines of proper testing protocols. Further, it would stop shots fired PAST those protocols and then some more. While we were able to force failure, it took violating two different test protocols to do so: the distance between shots and the number of total shots fired into that smaller distance. The armor proved comfortable to wear and a solid platform to carry equipment as well. Cut to my measurements, the vest did not restrict my ability to move and function, allowing expected maneuverability for shooting, grasping, lifting, etc.

While this armor design and the engineering behind it had started out totally alien to me, it was proven through the testing process. And the testing process itself proved to be educational for me. It doesn’t get much better than gaining education while proving a product through rigorous and beyond-standard testing.

For more information, check out Verco Materials, LLC online at

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine.

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