History of Soft Body Armor

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a rapid increase in officer fatalities, with the majority committed with handguns. In response to this trend, the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (NILECJ), predecessor agency of NIJ, initiated a research program to investigate the development of a lightweight body armor that could be worn continuously by officers while on duty.

The investigation readily identified new materials that could be woven into a lightweight fabric with excellent ballistic-resistant properties. Following initial laboratory research, the agency concluded that the objective of producing body armor suitable for full-time use was achievable. In a parallel effort, the National Bureau of Standards/Law Enforcement Standards Laboratory developed a performance standard that defined ballistic-resistant requirements for police body armor.[1] The National Bureau of Standards participated in the NIJ Technology Assessment Program, today known as the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) System. The National Bureau of Standards/Law Enforcement Standards Laboratory is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)/Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES).

A final report released in 1976 concluded that the new ballistic-resistant materials effectively provided a lightweight ballistic-resistant vest wearable for full-time use.