For many centuries, warriors and soldiers have continuously searched for better and more feasible methods to protect themselves from oncoming attacks and deadly weapons.
From the knights of the medieval age in their shining armor to Japanese samurai and their softer body armor, personal protection has always been a priority of people who go into battle. Steel, chainmail, and leather are examples of past armor materials, which served as adequate in a time of blades and arrows.
Fast forward to several decades, and large-scale melee warfare has become obsolete. Now firearms and artillery reign on the battlefield. The heavy, bulky, and rigid materials of the past are replaced with much lighter and more rigid synthetic fibers, sewn together to form ballistic vests worn over clothing or even concealed.
How does a body armor work and how much force is required to stop a bullet?
The body armor’s interior is where the stopping force takes action. The exterior is primarily meant to either try to first deflect or impair the direction of the round and secondarily focuses on aesthetic features to match uniforms of the Military/PMC or also act as camo. Then the interior, composed of a variety of synthetic fibers work together to absorb and then spread the impact over the surface area of the entire vest.
There are many types of body armor that you can find today, and while many police departments or military divisions issue bulletproof vests, they don’t necessarily make for the perfect fit. There are organizations that allow their operatives to personally select their own body armor and there are others who are firearms enthusiasts looking to safely and responsibly enjoy their hobby in the wild or at the range. Whatever your reason might be, below is a quick description of the different levels of body armor.
Level I Body Armor
Level I protection is the lowest available level in terms of bulletproof vests. At this level, a vest is rated for 2 types of small caliber rounds, .38 and .22 caliber rounds to be precise. Due to higher caliber rounds being very common, Level I vests are not considered up to NIJ standards.
Level IIA Body Armor
Level IIA is the next tier up. At this level, protection is slightly more flexible additionally protecting the body from 9 mm rounds as well as .40 Smith and Wesson rounds. The “A” distinction refers to having similar properties as Level II vests but somewhat weaker.
Level II Body Armor
Level II vests provide the same level of protection as IIA but can sustain damage from 9 mm rounds at higher traveling speeds (up to 1245 ft/s) and additionally protects against the .357 magnum rounds.
Level IIIA Body Armor
Level IIIA protection covers all previous protection levels as well as 9 mm rounds traveling at speeds of up to 1400 ft/s. IIIA vests also protect against .44 magnum and .44 caliber rounds.
There are suppliers that offer level IIIA+ vests that protect against shotgun rounds, 9 mm Civil Defense rounds, and FN 5.7. While such vests are not officially certified by the NIJ, it is an exploratory option for additional firearm resistance.
Level III Body Armor
Level III body armor is the first level that protects against rifle rounds. These vests usually consist of hard metal plates as opposed to soft plates. Vests must be able to withstand six shots from a 7.62x51 NATO round traveling up to 2780 ft/s to be considered as Level III.
Level IV Body Armor
Level IV body armor is the highest basic level which protects against armor piercing rounds. They also consist of hard plates as opposed to Level IIIA plates and below.
Special Level Armor
Special type body armor can go beyond the standard protection rating. Level IIIA+ falls under this classification for example. Special type armor usually has very specific protection ratings in terms of caliber and traveling speed of the round.
The threat levels for ballistic vests are set by the NIJ (National Institute of Justice). If you like to know more about the particular threat levels, you can visit the NIJ’s website for more information.
With this information, you can now browse through various types of bulletproof vests with an idea of the level of protection you want in mind. Be aware that the highest rating possible is not necessarily the best choice due to factors like the cost and the weight or maneuverability of the vest.
Take note of the conditions that you operate in and make the best decision that would cover your needs without breaking your budget or rendering you immobile out on the field.