V50 Ballistics Testing

February 27, 2017 BrassTacs Actual

Our last article outlined standards and why they are what they are in accordance with the NIJ and ensuring the structural integrity of safety equipment; specifically pertaining to tactical helmets. If you’re new, and you have merely heard the term NIJ and equate it to protective equipment, the NIJ is the National Institute of Justice; commissioned by the DoJ to establish a standard for specific, hard end use of equipment that keeps people alive… (this is a very cliff noted description)! This article is not about the NIJ, rather than the standards that Hard Head Veterans and all other companies must adhere to, in order to vend to the US Government (on any level) but more importantly, to help mitigate as much risk to those that count on their products to keep them alive. As flippant as it sounds, the testing processes are tedious and are done with hyper attention to detail and this is precisely what we are doing here.


It’s a numbers game

In our last article we depicted a series of tests that cover what some would consider consular injuries in combat such as crush, drop and weather testing standards, National Technical Systems conducts a V50 ballistic limit tests which are conducted to ensure helmets and protective equipment stand up to ballistic threats as well, without getting too scientific we are going to line out what the V50 tests consist.

 Manufacturers who are serious about their products and keeping sheepdogs alive and safe, adhere to the process as much as the NIJ standards themselves. From start to finish EVERYTHING is recorded…EVERYTHING. From the date, the tests were conducted to the method in which the products were carried to the testing area and a plethora of other pertinent data in between. A sample from each of the manufacturer's LOT is conducted using the same distances (to target), projectiles, powders, humidity, and temperature. The V50 standards are comprised of a series of 4 ballistic tests with 4 different rounds that carry varying levels of kinetic energy that have been determined the most “common” in battlefield ballistic head/body injuries.


Blast and Frag

NIJ level IIIA ballistic standards begin with a 17-grain bullet which is fired from a 22” .223 barrel. For those that know anything about Armor levels, are aware of the inability for anything IIIA to stop full penetration of a projectile traveling at velocities of excesses of 2,190 Ft/s particularly from a 90-degree angle. It may seem a bit counterproductive to conduct these types of tests having a reasonable hypothesis of the outcome. Studies have shown that most battlefield head injuries are coming from fragmentation resulting from proximities to blast radius; which is why this test is completely necessary. The other key part of this test is to figure out where the helmet will actually fail. 


Test subjects succumb to 9 shots targeting each major point on the helmets. The crown (top), Front (forehead), Right and left sides and back of the helmet. Virtually, total coverage of the helmet. According to the published results from HHV, there were 5 complete penetrations throughout during one particular test.


Pistol Caliber Testing

The next phase in ballistics testing comes on the heels of three pistol caliber cartridges. The common 124 grain 9mm and .357 sig and .44 magnum which pack a significant punch. Though none of the 3 have velocities of the fast .223 round, the energy they carry upon impact can be detrimental to whatever they slam into.


All 3 calibers are tested in a similar manner as the 17 grain supersonic round. Whereas the pistol calibers are tested for penetration and atmospheric damage such as Spaulding and other degradation of the helmet and material. Each is tested at the same impact points, with five rounds at varying velocities.


124 grain 9mm – According to the published test results conducted on 11/17/2016, the test subject passed all five impacts and the energy they brought. The striking velocity struck each target point at speeds ranging between 1,407 and 1,439 Ft/s. As we discussed in part 1 (LINK HERE) impacts are measured by using the FARO BTD (head form high-density clay). Contrary to what you may hear and see on backyard testing videos, 9mm is currently the only round that has set Pass/Fail parameters when it comes to backface deformation. As per the Army Testing Center's Instruction. 

 9mm FMJ is tested against the same high density clay that is used for impact testing

9mm Impact test results (124 Grain)

Placement            Velocity                                     Depression


1,407 Ft/s

13.028 mm


1,439 Ft/s

16.329 mm



13.876 mm



15.903 mm



10.585 mm


125 grain .357 Sig – Bullet penetration with the .357 Sig being the center concentration point, whereas force and energy being centered with the smaller 9mm round. There are slight differences in the units of measure between the two. Penetration tests are measured against a 2024 – T3 Aluminum witness plate with larger pistol calibers aside from the dense clay for impact measurements with indentations. Each subject is tested in its finished configuration equipped with Styrofoam padding, suspension/retention systems, NVG shrouds and exterior Velcro, in other words, just as the helmet is worn by its hard end users. Impact velocities ranged from 1,450 to 1,471 Ft/s at distances from 8.20 to 5.34 ft., from a 4-inch barrel. According to the NIJ, the .357 Sig carries a Type 1 threat which is classified in carrying a velocity of 1,470 Ft/s +/- 30 Ft/s.


.357 Sig penetration test results (125 Grain)

Placement            Velocity                               Penetration


1,460 Ft/s



1,471 Ft/s



1,450 Ft/s



1,485 Ft/s





240 grain .44 Mag – The last pistol caliber cartridge that NIJ considers a type 2 threat, classified as carrying a velocity of 1,400 Ft/s +/- 30 Ft/s. The .44 Magnum is generally one of the more popular calibers with wheel guns. As seen in the famous Dirty Harry movies, where Clint Eastwood wields a hand cannon…you are watching a .44 mag going to work. Although the Hollywood dramatization is obvious, the devastating effects that the 240-grain jackhammer can inflict is not. Subjects are tested in their finished form. Padding, retention, shrouds and Velcro in place the helmet is placed atop the same 2024 – T3 aluminum plate from distances of 5-8 ft. just as seen with the .357 Sig. For this testing, Speer 240 grain Jacketed Hollow Point was fired from a 10-inch barrel targeting the 4 common areas of the helmet with varying velocities ranging from 1,375 to 1,398 Ft/s.


.44 Magnum Penetration test results (240 Grain)

Placement                           Velocity                              Penetration


1,375 Ft/s



1,398 Ft/s



1,390 Ft/s



1,397 Ft/s




Follow Through

Now, a lot of what you just read may seem a bit on the technical side. The general point being is that companies have banded together to put as much attention to detail into the testing procedures as they do the design and manufacturing process. Companies like Hard Head Veterans have more than a business investment into their products, there are close friends of theirs who count on them to keep their brains in the same working order as they were before they donned the helmets.


The NIJ and facilitators like National Technical Systems record and catalog each step of their testing procedures to not only be used as training and quality control but to improve on the already stringent standards. For more information, you can visit NIJ and National Technical Systems for more information regarding their standards and procedures.  

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