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The Ultimate Guide to Ballistic Shields

May 5th, 2023

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a ballistic shield in a world where threats to the safety of our federal law enforcement and military personnel are ever-present. Whether it’s a high-risk search warrant or a hostage rescue mission, a ballistic shield is an indispensable tool for ensuring the safety of those in the line of duty. 

Whether you’re a federal agent or a military service member, this comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about ballistic shields. We invite you to join us on a journey through the world of ballistic shields as we explore the cutting-edge tools that protect those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. 

What Is a Ballistic Shield?

A ballistic shield is a piece of protective equipment designed to provide protection from particles, fragmentation or projectiles. Typically, manufacturers make them from transparent and opaque steel armor capable of withstanding bullets and shrapnel.

Are Ballistic Shields Bulletproof?

While ballistic shields can protect against bullets, they are not entirely bulletproof. A ballistic shield’s resistance depends on its design and the materials used in its construction. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has established a series of standards defining the protection level provided by different types of protective materials, which include ballistic shields. These range from Level II to Level IV, and each provides progressively higher protection. 

  • NIJ Level II: This body armor can survive five shots of 9 mm or .357 Magnum bullets without penetration. (.357 – 158 gr at 1395 fps +/- 50 & 9mm – 124 gr at 1175 fps +/- 40)
  • NIJ Level IIIA: IIIA is flexible and ensures at least five shots of protection against faster 9 mm bullets and .44 Magnum rounds. (.44 mag – 240 gr at 1400 fps +/- 50 & 9mm – 124 gr at 1400 fps +/- 50)
  • NIJ Level III: Level III guarantees a shield can withstand five 7.62 mm or .308 Winchester rifle bullets. (7.62mm – 150 gr 2750 +/- 50) 
  • NIJ Level IV: Level IV offers the highest security level. The NIJ standard certifies that these shields protect the bearer from a single shot of armor-piercing ammunition, such as .30-06. (30-06 AP – 166 gr at 2850 +/- 50)

Ballistic shields come in various shapes and sizes. Some have wheels, such as our Mobile Defensive Fighting Positions, which provide head-to-toe protection on a mobile platform. Others are heavy-duty, permanent installations in high-security areas and checkpoints. Additionally, others are mounted on vehicles or used as extra protection on a wall or railing. Ballistic shields can also come equipped with additional awareness such as LRAD acoustic hailing devices to improve communication between team members. 

Ballistic shields are a critical tool for those who work in high-risk situations. While these shields are not wholly bulletproof, manufacturers design them to adhere to the NIJ ballistic protection levels.

The Difference Between Ballistic Shields and Riot Shields

While ballistic and riot shields have similar benefits, there are some critical differences between them. 

  • Protection: Ballistic shield designers created a tool to provide ballistic protection against bullets, blast and fragmentation. Meanwhile, a riot shield protects against blunt-force trauma, such as batons or thrown objects.
  • Materials: Manufacturers typically make riot shields from polycarbonate, acrylic or Lexan, which are lightweight, durable and impact-resistant materials. On the other hand, ballistic shields consist of heavier materials that can withstand higher impact levels — these materials include steel armor, high-performance polyethylene, laminated glass and Fiberglass.
  • Shapes and sizes: The shape and size of ballistic and riot shields also differ. Ballistic shields are typically larger and offer more coverage, while riot shields are smaller, lighter and easier to maneuver. Users can also handle or mount ballistic shields on vehicles or buildings, while they mainly hold riot shields by hand and use them in close-quarters situations. 
  • Application: Due to their characteristics, operators primarily use ballistic shields for entry points or access control in government buildings, borders and checkpoints. Riot shields, conversely, are mostly for crowd control by law enforcement and prison security. 
  • Viewport: A ballistic shield typically has a viewport, whereas riot shields do not require one. 

In summary, while both shields are essential tools, they serve different purposes. Officers and military personnel need to understand the differences between the two types of shields and choose the appropriate one for the situation at hand. 

Who Uses Ballistic Shields and Why?

Ballistic shields are a vital tool for various government agencies, including the military and law enforcement. Ballistic shields provide vital protection at access and entry control points, government buildings, and at border and security checkpoints. In many circumstances, ballistic shields also provide critical protection against ballistic threats such as bullets, blasts and fragmentation. 

In particular, the federal government has a significant need for ballistic shields. Federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA and ATF are responsible for investigating and preventing several criminal activities, including terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. 

Employees of these agencies often work in high-risk situations where they may encounter armed criminals or face the threat of explosive devices. Heavy-duty mobile or permanently installed ballistic shields can provide critical protection for agents and officers in these situations, allowing them to safely approach and neutralize potential threats.

In addition to federal law enforcement agencies, the military extensively uses ballistic shields. Service members on the front lines face a wide range of threats, including small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices. Ballistic shields can provide a critical layer of protection for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as they maneuver in combat zones.

In conjunction with ballistic shields, the military and federal agencies can also use ballistically certified furniture such as ballistic podiums, partitions, safe benches and safe desks to enhance their experience. Additionally, Defenshield offers camography — a proprietary method to increase your product’s effectiveness. Camography will help users blend into the surroundings of these government environments.

Transportation agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and Airport Law Enforcement also require ballistic shields. These agencies protect critical infrastructure, such as airports and seaports, which terrorist organizations or other malicious actors may target. Ballistic shields can benefit security personnel who need to identify and overcome potential threats.

Overall, ballistic shields are a critical tool for federal agencies. They provide a crucial layer of protection for personnel who work in high-risk situations and are ideal for access control. As threats evolve, ballistic shields will likely play an essential role in protecting government personnel and assets.

In addition to federal agencies, ballistic shields are also used extensively by state governments by agencies such as the National Guard , the courts, corrections, and in private industry such as banking, energy generation, nuclear, and transportation such as airports, bus, and train stations

How Do Ballistic Shields Work?

Ballistic shields protect against threats such as bullets and shrapnel. They work by absorbing and dissipating the incoming projectile’s energy, reducing its ability to penetrate the shield and cause harm.

When a projectile strikes a ballistic shield, the shield’s material will begin to deform and absorb the energy of the impact. This deformation helps spread out the impact’s force and decreases the pressure on any one area of the shield. In high-performance polyethylene, fibers in the material will also begin to stretch and absorb energy, further lessening the impact force.

What Are Ballistic Shields Made Of?

A ballistic shield’s specific design will depend on its intended use and the protection it provides. Generally, ballistic shields consist of a combination of materials such as steel, glass, Kevlar, Dyneema and ceramics. Experts choose these materials for their ability to absorb and dissipate energy and withstand high-velocity impacts.

Engineers construct ballistic shields according to their intended use and the level of protection they should provide. For example, shields designed to offer extra protection may have multiple layers of materials. 

In addition to the materials used to construct the shield, the shape and size also play a role in its effectiveness. A larger shield can provide more coverage and protection, but may also be heavier and bulkier to maneuver. 

The Importance of Bulletproof Protection

As gun violence and terrorist threats continue to escalate, bulletproof protection has become increasingly crucial for individuals and organizations, including the federal government. Statistically, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. has gone up in recent years. 

Ballistic shields provide a crucial layer of protection in situations where people may be at risk of gunfire or other ballistic threats. Users can use ballistic shields for access control to keep humans and sensitive areas safe from harm. By providing a physical barrier between a shooter and their intended target, ballistic shields can save lives and prevent injuries.

The federal government and its agencies protect Americans from these threats. By investing in ballistic shields and other protective equipment, the government can ensure the safety of its employees and the public.

How to Choose a Ballistic Shield

Several factors influence the correct ballistic shield choice. A durable shield can provide essential protection in high-risk situations, so you must choose one that meets your specific needs. Here are some things to consider when selecting a ballistic shield.

  • Mobility: Ballistic shields can be permanent, handheld or on wheels for ease of mobility. Handheld shields may be lighter and easier to transport, but permanent and wheeled ballistic shields provide a more strategic solution — a heavier, more durable shield with head-to-toe coverage and a large viewing port. These are among the many advantages over handheld ballistic shields
  • Size: The shield size should be appropriate for the intended use. Larger shields provide comprehensive coverage, but may also be heavier and more challenging to maneuver in tight spaces. Smaller shields can be easier to handle, but offer less protection. Consider the space you will be operating in and the potential threats you will face when choosing a shield size.
  • Components: A ballistic shield typically consists of several parts, including the shield body, viewport and handle. The materials used in each component can impact the shield’s overall effectiveness and durability. Look for high-quality materials that can withstand ballistic impacts.
  • Attachments: Users can fit some ballistic shields with additional accessories, such as lighting systems, cameras or communication devices. These attachments can provide valuable information and support during high-stress situations, but can also add weight and complexity. Consider whether these attachments are necessary for your intended use and whether they are compatible with the shield you are considering.
  • NIJ level: When choosing a ballistic shield, look up the NIJ protection level needed for the intended use.
  • Durability: Designers create ballistic shields to withstand high-impact situations, so you should choose a durable, built-to-last option. Look for shields made from materials like ballistic steel or high-strength polymers, and consider the manufacturer’s track record of producing high-quality products.

Overall, selecting the right ballistic shield requires careful consideration of several vital factors. You can choose a shield that provides the necessary protection and durability for your specific situation by assessing your needs and evaluating different options.  

Trust in Defenshield for All Your Ballistic Protection Needs

Ballistic shields are essential for those who work in a variety of situations where gun violence and terrorist threats are common. A ballistic shield provides much-needed protection in the line of fire, helping law enforcement, military personnel and federal agencies to safeguard the public and maintain order. 

When choosing a ballistic shield, it’s crucial to consider factors such as size, weight and attachments to ensure the shield meets your specific needs. Defenshield delivers the highest-quality, combat-proven ballistic protection products, with over 20 years of experience supporting anti-terror or force protection physical security needs for the U.S. government, foreign partners, law enforcement and the private sector. 

As a service-disabled veteran-owned company, Defenshield takes great pride in helping protect good guys who are protecting others. Count on us for all your ballistic protection needs. Contact us below for more information.