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National Institute of Justice Standards: What Do the NIJ Protection Levels Mean?

2023 Ballistic Level Standards

Military, law enforcement and other government agencies must often send personnel into hazardous situations. Providing them with appropriate protection is vital to ensure their safety and performance in challenging circumstances, and understanding NIJ ballistic levels is essential to choosing the most appropriate ballistic protection levels for your application.

Ballistic Standards

The Importance of Ballistic Protection Levels

When you step into the line of fire to do your duty, you want to know that you have the proper gear for the application. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provides scientific research and development for the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). This government agency sets the voluntary national standard for ballistically certified body armor worn by law enforcement and corrections officers.

The NIJ also provides commercial testing to evaluate armor for compliance with its performance standards. The test assesses whether or not a bullet perforates the vest and the vest’s ability to protect against blunt force trauma. In addition, body armor must meet workmanship and labeling requirements.

To ensure body armor is safe and reliable under pressure, manufacturers must pass six additional NIJ follow-up inspections and testing over a five-year period to determine whether the products are constructed like the original samples. Testing must be conducted at an NIJ-approved laboratory independent of political conflicts of interest.

The British, Australian and German governments have set international standards that also provide criteria for body armor durability. Defenshield has created this overview to help you assess which body armor level is appropriate for the dangers you may encounter in the field.

NIJ Protection Levels and Types of Ammunition Explained

The NIJ provides five armor protection level classifications — IIA, II, IIIA, III and IV. The “A” in some levels refers to the fact that the vest offers more protection than the level before but cannot meet the standard of the next level, so it’s generally a half-step up. Although there is an armor level one, it’s now outdated and no longer approved by the NIJ because of its weak resistance level.

Soft body armor is typically level IIIA and below, while hard body armor and ballistic protection equipment are generally level III and up with body armor plates included. Each of the five armor levels has distinct advantages against different types of ammunition:

NIJ standard levels

Other Types of Bullet-Resistant Ratings and Standards

Several other standards exist for bullet-resistant armor. In addition to NIJ ballistic ratings, the U.S. has standards from the State Department. Countries around the world and independent testing organizations have also produced their own standards, some of which include:

The Benefits of Defenshield NIJ-Level-Rated Products

Defenshield NIJ-level-rated products have considerable benefits in the field. They are combat-proven and high-quality items constructed according to the intended application and level of protection they provide. Using these products has many benefits, some of which include the following:

Find NIJ Ballistically Certified Armor from Defenshield Today

Defenshield is a global industry authority focused on engineering and producing of the highest quality ballistic protective equipment and tactical gear. Our clients include the U.S. government and military, United States law enforcement and foreign partners. They know they can trust Defenshield to provide the highest quality equipment solutions in the most challenging environments.

As a service-disabled veteran-owned business, when you work with us, you have more than a vendor — you have a partner committed to rigorous testing to ensure our solutions will perform as intended during an assault or attack. We know the importance of addressing your unique needs with a global leader in engineering and manufacturing ballistic protective equipment.

Defenshield has a guide to national and international armor standards to browse for more information. If you have questions or want to make a purchasereach out to our sales team online, call us at 904-679-3942 or email us at