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Understanding the DEA & FBI Protocols for Body Armor

Understanding the DEA & FBI Protocols for Body Armor

Did you know that ballistic testing doesn't stop at the NIJ Standards? Today, we're delving into the specifics of two specific ballistic testing protocols: the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) protocols. These protocols test against additional special threats commonly faced by the DEA & FBI and are tested in a manner that reflects a law enforcement setting.

DEA Armor Testing: Rigor in Layers

The DEA's approach to testing body armor is two-pronged, differentiating between soft and hard armor requirements.

DEA Soft Armor Protocol

Soft armor is subjected to a battery of tests with various ammunition types at specified velocities, including:

Projectile Grain  Velocity
9mm FMJ RN 124 1400 ft/s
9mm Luger Speer Gold Dot 147 1015 ft/s
.40 S&W Winchester Bonded JHP 165 940 ft/s

Unlike the FBI protocol, fragmentation testing plays a crucial role in the DEA soft armor protocol, with right circular cylinder (RCC) projectiles ranging from 2 to 64 grains tested at velocities to assess their V50 limits – the velocity at which there's a 50% chance of penetration.

Projectile Grain  Velocity
2 Grain RCC 2 2735 ft/s
4 Grain RCC 4 2420 ft/s
16 Grain RCC 16 2080 ft/s
64 Grain RCC 64 1620 ft/s

DEA Hard Armor Protocol

The DEA Hard Armor protocol tests against additional special threats faced by law enforcement agencies today, such as steel core AR-15 and AK-47 ammo, as well as the Standard NIJ Level III round (M80).

Projectile Grain  Velocity
.223 Remington Tactical Bonded Soft Point 62 2600 ft/s
5.56x45mm M855 (Green Tip) 62 3100 ft/s
7.62x39mm Mild Steel Core 123 2400 ft/s
7.62x51mm NATO (M80) 147 2750 ft/s
.308 Winchester PSPB Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded 150 2600 ft/s

Notably, the DEA hard armor protocol does not measure or limit back-face deformation like the NIJ Standard does. It also does not require any environmental conditioning or testing shots and in many respects, is the easiest protocol for a plate to pass. 

The FBI's Comprehensive Soft Armor Testing

The FBI's protocol is uniquely detailed, emphasizing environmental conditioning and real-world scenarios. It involves:

  • Multiple impacts with 9 mm FMJ RN "control" projectiles at specified velocities and conditions
  • Additional tests with 8.2 g (127 gr) SXT +P+ bullets, emphasizing contact shots
  • Conditioning tests involving extreme temperatures and submersion in water

This exhaustive process ensures that armor can withstand a variety of threats and conditions, reflecting the unpredictable nature of law enforcement work.

For those who would like to know the entire process:

The FBI soft armor protocol calls for four armor panels. 

Panel #1: Six shots of 9mm FMJ then 2 shots of 9mm FMJ within 1.5" to 2" of the panel's edge.

Panel #2: Conditioned at 140° F for 14-24 hours, then 3 shots of 9mm FMJ.

Panel #3: Conditioned at -40° F for 14-24 hours, then 3 shots of 9mm FMJ.

Panel #4: Submerged 18"-24" deep in room temperature water for 14-24 hours. Once time is up, the panel is pulled from the water and immediately shot 3 times with 9mm FMJ.

After these steps are performed, Panel 2, 3, or 4 is pulled at random and shot at point-blank range with 9mm FMJ. Panel 2 or 4 is then shot with the current general-issue FBI sidearm and projectile. Finally, Panel 3 is shot at a point-blank range with 9mm SXT +P+.

Comparing Protocols: A Reflection on Standards

While the DEA and FBI protocols share similarities in their rigorous testing of soft armor, they diverge in their approach to hard armor and specific conditions. The DEA's inclusion of fragmentation testing for soft armor highlights a concern for varied ballistic threats, whereas the FBI's detailed process emphasizes environmental resilience and real-life applicability.

DEA & FBI Compliant Armor from Top Armor

HighCom Armor is some of the most extensively tested armor on the market, being tested to standards that exceed the regular NIJ Standards. With an already wide selection of NIJ Certified armor, check out the models that are also DEA and/or FBI Compliant below. 

Level IIIA

  • SA3100 (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA/FBI Compliant)
  • SA3920 (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA/FBI Compliant)

Level III/III+

  • 3S9 (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA Compliant)
  • 3S9M (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA Compliant)

Level IV

  • 4S17 (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA Compliant)
  • 4S17M (NIJ 0101.06 Certified + DEA Compliant)
  • 4SAS7 (NIJ 0101.04 Certified + DEA Compliant)
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Next article A Full Guide to Stab Resistant Body Armor

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