As a part of personal protection gear, ballistic face masks are made in a way to protect the face of the wearer from bullets, shrapnel, and other such ballistic threats. There is a weight restriction to make it easier to wear, so the protection levels are not up to the level of ballistic body armors. It is made of bullet proof materials like Kevlar, with shock absorbent padding inside.
Kevlar is a strong para aramid fiber, which has excellent strength and heat resistant capacity. It was developed by DuPont, and is used for many industrial purposes including in ballistic face masks. Its fibers are woven like a mesh of several interlocked tiny spider webs, and this provides additional durability. Besides its use in bullet proof face masks, it finds a place in the armor of fire fighters too because of its resistance to intense heat. The ballistic face masks are made of several compressed layers which are capable of absorbing and distributing the shock of a colliding bullet. The high energy of impact is dispersed by the layers of the mask till the bullet mushrooms and gets deformed.
Since there is a restriction on the weight of a bullet proof face masks, its protection level measures up to only NIJ 3A. NIJ or National Institute of Justice has implemented a standard for body armors and face masks to comply with. The standard stipulates the conditions for its design. Of the six threat levels, Levels I, II, IIA, III, and IIIA are intended for soft body armor, and ballistic face masks fall into this category. Its protection level comes up to Level IIIA.
Level IIIA is the highest grade in soft body armor, and can resist 44 magnum bullets travelling at a speed of up to 1400 and 1450 fps, and also bullets with sub machine gun velocity. The ‘A’ in Level IIIA means that it was tested for additional caliber besides the ones specified by the NIJ.As the threat level protection increases, the bullet proof face masks get thicker and heavier. Earlier, the most common threat level was IIA, which gives protection against low and medium velocity bullets of 9mm and 357 magnums.
NIJ has also prescribed stab resistance levels for very sharp blades and for improvised, low quality ones that may be used against ballistic face masks. The former level known as the “edged blade class” offer protection against very sharp blades, like the kitchen knives. The second one is called the “spike class”, and this is for the improvised coarse weapons, most of which could be of low quality.
Bullet Proof Face Masks
Ballistic face masks usually have a padded lining inside to cover the forehead, cheeks and chin. This absorbs the perspiration, not allowing it to enter the eyes. The slots for the eyes are usually covered by a mesh, and this can be covered by goggles strong enough to resist shrapnels and bullets. The mask is worn with the aid of elastic attachments that can be optimized for the correct fit. The bullet proof face masks are also compatible with ballistic helmets, so that the entire head is protectively covered. There is no protection for the neck, so it has to be teamed up with an adequate ballistic armor with neck extension.
Even with these specifications in place, ballistic face masks can limit the performance of the wearer. A fully protecting bullet proof face mask leaves limited options to use communication devices. This can be highly crippling, because those engaged in combat need to be updated of each other’s position constantly. It does not have any respirator attachment, and this could be bad if there is a fire also in the area. Eyes are not properly protected, and the wearer needs to use additional gear for that, which will again limit the field of view. Besides these, there is the weight too. These ballistic face masks can weigh as less as 0.5 kg, but the heavier they are the higher is the protection, and difficulty in maneuverability. Without eye protection and adequate covering for the neck it would be difficult to survive in intense combat situations. An option is to use helmets with a ballistic visor.
Bullet proof face masks like these are more suited to use in open positions and static situations. Those who have to jump, climb and crawl in a combat would not be allowed to function well. Ideally law enforcement people who are not facing a heavily armed mob can benefit from such masks.