Ballistic shields are a type of bullet-resistant tool meant to deliver additional protection in addition to that provided by body armor. The market now is full of various types of tactical ballistic shields, so you may feel puzzled about what particular model of a shield you should prefer. That’s only normal. This guide helps you to understand what the main types of ballistic shields are based on the following criteria: NIJ classification, material of the shield, and weight and dimensional characteristics.

NIJ Ballistics Shield classification

The National Institute of Justice standardizes three protection levels for ballistics shields: Level IIIA, Level III and Level IV (plus the outdated Level II which we are not describing below). Just like with NIJ standards for body armor, each class of ballistic shield protection means that a certified shield is guaranteed to withstand certain threats within that protection level. Specifically:

  • NIJ Level IIIA protection. This class governs lighter weight shields designed to stop pistol bullets. Typical examples are 9 mm FMJ and .44 Magnum types of ammo. Moreover, a class IIIA certified shield is guaranteed to stop or deflect at least five shots of the above ammo types.
  • NIJ Level III protection. This NIJ level offers protection against rifle calibers including 7.62×51 and M80 FMJ as well as lesser threats. Ballistic shields Level III can safely deal with 5 shots too.
  • NIJ Level IV protection. This type of shield provides protection against high velocity bullets and armor piercing bullets such as 7.62×63 M2 AP or .30-06.

For non-specialists, higher means better. However, in the real world you should not stick to Level IV type of ballistic shields all the time. This is not practical. In fact, you should consider potential threats and select the NIJ type of shield accordingly. Otherwise, you just pay over without any significant benefit in terms of your safety. Also, Level IV ballistic shields can be bulkier and heavier than their Level III and IIIA counterparts, so you may end up less mobile and paradoxically more vulnerable, not less as you might expect.

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Material of the ballistic shield

Historically, shields were made of wood, metal and leather. Today, modern ballistic shields use a range of contemporary polymer materials and composite ceramics.


The abbreviation stands for Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. This is not your typical polyethylene you can see all around. High molecular weight means extra density of the material. Even normal polyethylene can be only cut easily but is hard to tear apart (try it yourself!). And UHMWPE fibers are much tougher, so they successfully stop bullets and projectiles. UHMWPE ballistic shields are rather lightweight, but can be bulky.

Para-Aramid (synthetic fibers)

The best known example of para-aramid fiber is Kevlar. This lightweight material is often used for body armor and for ballistic shields too. High tensile strength of aromatic polyamide fibers allows them to withstand even high energy bullets. Kevlar and its analogs are lightweight, but demonstrate excellent stopping power.

Non-fibrous polymers

Polymer sheet materials like Tensylon are also used in manufacturing of ballistic shields. Such polymers are extremely resistant to physical damage thanks to high rigidity, so NIJ Level IV shields are often made of such materials. Non-fibrous polymers can easily withstand multiple shots and deflect even high-speed projectiles.

Composite materials

There are no “one size fits all” materials that would work equally well against every type of threat. That is why there are types of composite ballistic shields made from multiple layers of different materials, each offering protection against specific types of threats. Such layers may include polymer materials, ceramic plates, steel, UHMWPE and so on.

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Ballistic shields can also be categorized by their portability. The most common form-factor – ballistic shields Level 3 come in various weights and dimensions. Choosing the one you need strongly depends on the potential application and situation you will be using the shield in.

  • Handheld. Such shields are designed to be equipped and carried in hands. They typically have average or below average size, are one-handed, and thus offer limited protection only. Such handheld shields provide additional protection while not hindering mobility and allowing the wearer to execute fire.
  • Rolling platform shields. Full-height shields put on a platform that can be moved in any direction thanks to special wheels on the bottom of the platform. Such shields often have a bulletproof window for better visibility and a gun port that allows firing without exposing the shooter.
  • Ballistic blankets are mobile and portable ballistic shields Level III and Level IIIA that are designed to promptly deploy coverage for officers or civilians. In a folded form, the blanket looks like a briefcase and can be easily transported and carried around. The ballistic blanket unfolds in a minute when there is a need to protect people from gunfire.


The type of a ballistic shield matters a lot when it comes to selecting one for your duty. You should not rely on the very first impression, instead we recommend to assess all the factors, make comparisons, and then contact BattleSteel specialists for more in-depth consultation. We are glad to help you in selecting the best Level III ballistic shields for your needs!

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