Ballistic Protection levels

It is vital when choosing body armor to make sure that it adheres to the proper protection levels. While there are many different standards for ballistics protection levels, the two most commonly recognized standards for body armor come from the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the UK Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST, formerly HOSDB). These are widely held to be the world leaders in standardizing body armor. Testing methods are often shared between the two, so armor that meets the standards of one will meet the requirements of the equivalent.
These standards outline exactly what threats each level of body armor will protect against, as well as the strength of the attack it will stop. This means that a bullet proof vest at Level II for example will not protect against a Level IIIa threat. But what do these levels mean?

Ballistic Levels
Bullet proof vests are designed to ‘trap’ and slow bullets down as they attempt to pass through the vest. Bullet Proof Vests come in two different types; hard and soft. The ‘soft’ armors are designed to protect against most handgun and small arms ammunition, whereas ‘hard’ armors are designed to stop high caliber and armor piercing rounds. The NIJ classifies all armors in the following levels:
NIJ Levels Ballistic Tables

 Areal Density3.5 kg/m4.2 kg/m5.9 kg/m25.9 kg/m32.5 kg/m
.44 Magnum   XXX
5.56mm    XX
7.62mm Nato    XX
.30 Armour pierc (M2AP)     X


Edged Blade Levels
While the NIJ is considered the world standard for ballistics testing, stab-proof vests are standardised by the CAST. Many assume that if a piece of body armor can stop a bullet, it can stop a knife. This is not the case however, and stab proof vests are different in make up to bullet proof vests. It is possible to find multi-threat vests that can protect against both, but these still need to be graded according to the protection they offer against both bullets and edged/spiked weapons. The threat levels for stab proof vests are standardised by the CAST as follows:

 Knife Resistant Level 1 Knife Resistant Level 2 
Energy LevelE1E2E1E2
Energy (joules)24363350
Velocity5 m/sec6.2 m/sec5.9 m/sec7.3 m/sec
Total Missile Mass1.9 kg1.9 kg1.9 kg1.9 kg
Maximum Penetration7mm20mm7mm20mm

Spiked Weapon Levels
There is also spike protection to be considered, which was first introduced into CAST’s standards to address the additional threat faced by Prison Officers. Spike protection can be added to stab and ballistic vests, neither of which will ordinarily protect against spiked weapons. CAST will only certify spike protection in addition to stab protection. The threat levels for spike proof vests are standardised by the CAST as follows:

 KR1 & SP1KR1 & SP1KR2 & SP2KR2 & SP2
 Knife Resistant Level 1 & Spike Protection Level 1 Knife Resistant Level 2 & Spike Protection Level 2 
Energy LevelE1E2E1E2
Energy (joules)24N/A33N/A
Velocity5.0 m/secN/A5.9 m/secN/A
Total Missile Mass1.9 kgN/A1.9 kgN/A
Maximum PenetrationKR1=7mm, SP1=0mmN/AKR2=7mm, SP2=0mmN/A
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