Impact of the Upcoming NIJ .07 Ballistic Armor Standard Update

The upcoming NIJ 0101.07 Standard update was publicly announced in early 2018. This new NIJ Standard will supersede the current 0101.06 (often abbreviated to .06) Standard and bring with it a great deal of changes in the U.S. body armor industry. It is currently expected to see full implementation in the first quarter of 2021, but recent events may push that date back farther. What’s most relevant for end users is the changes to armor threat levels. There are now only 2 handgun threat levels as IIA or any equivalent to it has been eliminated. Level II has been renamed HG1 (for Handgun 1) and IIIA has had one of its two test threats changed (.357 Sig replaced with 9mm) along with a name change to HG2. The rifle threat levels have seen a significant change, with an almost total overhaul of the rifle threat requirements. There are now 3 rifle threat levels instead of 2. RF1 (for Rifle 1) requires armor to be tested against M80 Ball (the NIJ Level III test threat from the .06 Standard) and 7.62x39 as well as 5.56 M193. RF2 is the same, but adds 5.56 M855 as a test threat. RF3 is the same as Level IV from the .06 Standard. Another change is that for RF1 and RF2 only three hits are required per threat, with shot number 3 not counting for BFS (Backface Signature) requirements. This is significantly different from the .06 Standard, wherein for Level III 6 shots were required and each counted for BFS measurements, meaning every shot had to be within the NIJ BFS limit. The threat levels of the .07 Standard and test threats for each have been organized in a table below for convenience.

Handgun Levels:

HG1 -

  • 9mm 124gr FMJ at 1305 FPS

  • .357 Magnum 158gr JSP at 1430 FPS

HG2 -

  • 9mm 124gr FMJ at 1470 FPS

  • .44 Magnum 240gr JHP at 1430 FPS

Rifle Levels:

RF1 -

  • 7.62x51 M80 Ball at 2780 FPS

  • 7.62x39 120gr FMJ at 2380 FPS

  • 5.56 M193 at 3250 FPS

RF2 -

  • 7.62x51 M80 Ball at 2780 FPS

  • 7.62x39 120gr FMJ at 2380 FPS

  • 5.56 M193 at 3250 FPS

  • 5.56 M855 at 3115 FPS

RF3 -

  • .30-06 M2AP at 2880 FPS

There are multiple implications here. First, it will be difficult for most metallic armors (such as many steel plates) to earn NIJ Certification as the high velocity M193 requirement will be difficult for these plates to pass. M193 and similar high velocity projectiles are known for defeating steel plates and other metallic armor systems. There are several metallic armor systems on the current NIJ .06 CPL that will lose their NIJ Certification as they cannot stop M193 at the velocity required by the RF1 and RF2 standards. Further, the addition of M855 as a test threat for RF2 means that UHMWPE plates (commonly called poly plates) will be relegated to RF1 only as M855 easily defeats all current UHMWPE plates at the velocity required of the RF2 standard. On the matter of only requiring 3 hits per threat, with the third hit not counting for BFS, what this means is that there is a lesser ballistic requirement being placed on the armor compared to the 6 hits of M80 ball required by the Level III standard under NIJ .06. While the additional threats make testing more comprehensive many Level III plates designed for the .06 Standard can pass the RF1 test and in the case of ceramic plates the RF2 test. With only 3 shots being required instead of 6 we should, in theory, start seeing thinner and lighter plates even without significant material advancements as this is a much more lax ballistic requirement in terms of the total amount of kinetic energy a given plate must absorb without failure. Another notable change is that there is now a separate and slightly more robust requirement for testing of armor designed for female wearers. Overall this is a needed and welcome change. The .06 Standard has grown outdated since its introduction twelve years ago in 2008. Threats and operational environments are constantly evolving and as such the testing required of armor must adapt to meet these new requirements.

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