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Ballistic Protection Levels explained - VPAM

The most important protection is inserted in the vest cover. It is as individual as its wearer. In order to be best prepared for everyday police and military life, it is crucial to choose the right protection class.

Threat levels of bullet-resistant vests are defined in accordance with a number of different standards. VPAM is one of the most represented standards in ballistic protection, especially in Europe. The protection classes are designated from VPAM1 to VPAM14.

In this blog post, we will discuss the four most common threat levels: VPAM3, VPAM6, VPAM7, and VPAM9.


VPAM is the abbreviation for Vereinigung der Prüfstellen für angriffshemmende Materialien und Konstruktionen (Association of Testing Bodies for Attack Resistant Materials and Constructions), an organization that researches, develops, and tests bulletproof and stab resistance materials.

VPAM’s testing guidelines are written to promote societal safety and welfare. They make it possible to test and compare different materials and constructions regardless of where the testing facilities are located.

The following VPAM guidelines are relevant to personal protection:

  • APR: General Test Guidelines (in German, Allgemeine Prüfrichtlinien). For more information about this guideline, please click here: VPAM-APR – VPAM
  • BSW: Bullet-resistant Vest (in German, Ballistische Schutzweste). For more information about this guideline, please click here: BSW 2006 – VPAM
  • HVN: Bulletproof Helmet, Visor, and Neck Protection (in German, Durchschusshemmender Helm, Visier, und Nackenschutz). For more information about this guideline, please click here: HVN 2009 – VPAM



Each testing level contains its own guidelines and requirements. Typically specified are:

  • number of test samples
  • test temperature and duration of previous conditioning
  • type of ammunition and permitted velocity
  • number of hits and angle of impact
  • distances oft he hits to each other and to the edge oft he test pattern
  • type of background material (plasticine, for example)

Additional tests can be defined within the guidelines. Shooting with special ammunition or deviating angles are just two of the possibilities.

Upon completion of testing, VPAM issues test-result reports and certificates of testing. Manufacturers are permitted to print the VPAM test number onto the label of the product.



The members of VPAM are neutral testing bodies and institutions. They are responsible for the standardization and the testing of attack-resistant materials and constructions. The VPAM decides on the membership.

Currently, this includes members from 6 states:

  • Armasuisse Science and Technology (Switzerland)
  • ARWT—Office of Armament and Defense Technology, Felixdorf (Austria)
  • Test Centre for firearms Mellrichstadt (Germany)
  • Test Centre for firearms Munich (Germany)
  • Test Centre for firearms Saint-Étienne (France)
  • Test Centre for firearms Ulm (Germany)
  • DHPol—German Police College, Münster (Germany)
  • RMA—Royal Military Academy, Dept. of Weapon Systems & Ballistics, Brussels (Belgium)
  • FOR—Forensic Institute Zurich (Switzerland)
  • HTBLVA—Higher Technical Federal Training and Research Institute, Ferlach (Austria)
  • TNO Defence, Security and Safety, Rijswijk (Netherlands)
  • WIWeB—Institute of Military Science for Materials and Supplies, Erding (Germany)

VPAM guidelines do not compete with national and international standards, but rather are supplemental to them (especially in those areas with an absence of standards). Importantly, VPAM facilitates the creation of standardized processes through which products can be uniformly compared. The independent institutions comprising VPAM play a key role in establishing general protection standards that provide a protective framework for users and quality direction for manufacturers.

For more information about VPAM, please visit the organisation’s official website:
VPAM – Vereinigung der Prüfstellen für angriffshemmende Materialien und Konstruktionen



The four ballistic protection classes described in this post are categorized in accordance with VPAM-EN ISO/IEC 17025 body armour quality and threat-level standards. Whether a ballistic product qualifies for one protection class over another depends on the type and velocity of the projectile it can withstand.

The most common protection classes are: VPAM3, VPAM6, VPAM7, and VPAM9.

The performance standards for protective vests help users understand how much protection they can expect from the vest they want to wear.

Protection is always related to the protection level, price, comfort (weight, thickness, shape, soft-ballistics flexibility), and other requirements of the customer. Users of bullet-resistant vests are tasked with finding for themselves within those parameters the optimal balance (i.e. thickness versus flexibility, the price versus performance, and other considerations—all of which must be adjusted depending on the protection class at issue).



Caliber 9 mm Luger (DM 41)

VPAM3 protection is provided by soft ballistics and covers ballistic protection from Level 1 to Level 3.

Nations making the most frequent use of VPAM3 are those in which 9mm Luger handgun ammunition is prevalent.

Ammunition data:

  • Velocity: 415 ±10 m/s
  • Nominal mass: 8 g



7.62x39mm (M43)

VPAM6 protection is provided by hard ballistic plates. This class covers ballistic protection from Level 1 to Level 6.

It is effective against bullets fired from an AK47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, which happens to be the world’s most widely used type of ammunition.

Ammunition data:

  • 7.62x39 M43 FMJ/PB/FeC
  • Velocity: 720 ±10 m/s
  • Nominal mass: 7.9 grams



.233 Rem (5,56x45)
.308 Win. (7,62x51)

As with VPAM6, protection-rated VPAM7 is provided by hard ballistic plates. However, it covers not just ballistic protection from Levels 1 through 6 but also Level 7.

VPAM7 protects against the Western world’s most common types of assault rifle ammunition. Products in this class typically are made of ceramics or UHMW-PE (for more information about polyethylene, please read our previous blog article).

.233 Rem (5,56x45) SS109

Ammunition data:

  • Velocity: 950 ±10 m/s
  • Nominal mass: 4 grams

.308 Win. (7,62x51) DM111

Ammunition data:

  • Velocity: 830 ±10 m/s
  • Nominal mass: 9.55 grams



.308 Win (7,62x51) P80

VPAM9 protection is provided by hard ballistic plates. It covers ballistic protection from Level 1 through Level 9. It is bullet-resistant to hardened-core bullets fired from long rifles.

Ammunition data:

  • Velocity: 820 ±10
  • Nominal mass: 9,6 g



The proven adaptability of VPAM makes it ideal for many different applications. In particular, it provides good protection in threat situations ranging from minimal to severe.

To summarise:

  • VPAM3 (soft ballistics) Products that meet this standard are structurally flexible and can easily adapt to the shape of the wearer’s body. They provide protection against most types of short-barreled ammunition, such as the 9mm Luger (DM41) bullet.
  • VPAM6 (hard ballistics) Products in this class are more comfortable and cost-effective relative to products in higher protection classes. They provide protection against most long-gun ammunition types, notably that which is used by the AK47 Kalashnikov assault rifle.
  • VPAM7 (hard ballistics) The wearer of a protective vest meeting this standard can expect to be kept safe from most long-gun ammunition types, in particular those fired from the M16 rifle and the MG3 machine gun.
  • VPAM9 (hard ballistics) Heavier products occupy this protection class. They are effective against bullets with a hardened core, such as those used by the M16 rifle, the MG3 machine gun, and other common long guns. While the ammunition type is similar to that covered by protection class VPAM7, the difference is that products in the VPAM9 protection class can withstand bullets travelling at greater velocity.  




Personal protection—and, especially, the topic of protective vests—is becoming more and more important. However, not all protective vests are the same. Threat levels for ballistic vests are defined according to different standards. In this blog we don’t offer a definition of ballistic but rather address U.S. standard NIJ.