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National Institute of Justice Body Armor Challenge: How Long Does Body Armor Really Last?

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Challenge Winner (Phase II)

In the U.S. Department of Justice’s first ever Challenge competition, the winning team for NIJ’s Body Armor Challenge was from Purdue University’s school of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering.  The team received a $25,000 prize for proposing a concept for testing the viability of in-service body armor called the Vibration Energy Signature Test (VEST). While very promising, this methodology will require further development to determine its ultimate viability. In addition to the winner, honorable mentions include teams from the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management at Iowa State University; Southeast Efficiency Improvement Associates in South Carolina and the Center of Integrated Nanotechnologies and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico.

Phase I Winners

Four teams were selected as winners of phase I of the Body Armor Challenge based on their innovative ideas for finding non-destructive ways to test the internal integrity of body armor. The finalists are researchers from:

  • Purdue University
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Iowa State University
  • An independent two-person team

The four finalists will share the first-round prize money of $25,000 and go on to compete in round two for the additional grand prize of $25,000.


Ballistic-resistant soft body armor has saved the lives of over 3,000 police officers over the last three decades, and it continues to be critical safety equipment needed by law enforcement and corrections officers for personal protection. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and other federal agencies have funded research to develop materials, performance standards, and compliance testing methods to help ensure that body armor meets certain minimum performance requirements to protect the officers who wear it. The replacement cycle of a body armor system such as a ballistic-resistant vest is generally from three to five years. This is typically defined by the warranties that manufacturers or suppliers provide with the products. The ballistic performance of an individual vest may vary because of differences in normal daily wear and tear, other environmental factors, and the intrinsic chemical or physical properties of the ballistic materials from which the vest is constructed. Ideally, because the safety of officers is the ultimate priority, the service life of a vest should be determined based on its actual ballistic performance, rather than on a general warranty.

NIJ seeks viable solutions to determine whether the individual in-service body armor has maintained an acceptable level of ballistic performance to a high degree of certainty at any point during its service life and in a manner that does not render it unfit for continued use.

Soft body armor, such as a ballistic-resistant vest, is classified based on its ability to stop certain types of projectiles, which is a measure of its ballistic performance. There is currently no known way to predict the amount and rate of change of the ballistic performance of an individual vest due to environmental exposures and normal daily wear and tear, or due to the intrinsic chemical or physical properties of the ballistic materials. Soft armor systems can be constructed from various ballistic materials such as aramids, aramid derivatives, or ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylenes. Systems can be homogeneous and manufactured from one material or a heterogeneous combination of materials, and the methods of construction may also vary. The final products can be used by officers in any region of the United States in any aspect of criminal justice practice under different policies and procedures for care and maintenance. 

Clear and accurate approaches that measure the ballistic performance of soft body armor systems must be based on experimental designs that are scientifically sound and yield valid results. They must take into account the cost of resources such as money and time available to reach a conclusion. Potential approaches may utilize existing technologies, statistical methods, or innovative new strategies as long as they provide a means to predict to a high degree of certainty at any point during its service life whether a body armor system continues to maintain the level of ballistic performance for which it was originally rated. The goal of this Challenge is to empower end users who depend on this critical safety equipment to make informed decisions based on solid scientific evidence regarding the ballistic performance of the soft body armor they use.

A Challenge prize of up to $50,000 is available. Of that, $25,000 will be apportioned equally among the contestants invited to submit a full proposal at the end of Phase 1 judging. The remaining $25,000 will be awarded to the contestant deemed to be the winner of the Phase 2 judging. Should there be a tie between contestants’ Phase 2 viable solutions, the Phase 2 prize shall be divided equally between them. Should none of the solutions be judged to be viable, no prize will be awarded. Subject to the availability of appropriated funds and to any modifications or additional requirements that may be imposed by law, contestants submitting a winning solution at the end of Phase 2 may be afforded the opportunity to develop the proposed approach. Should the approach already be at an advanced level of technical readiness, winning contestants may be afforded the opportunity to have the solution evaluated by one or more law enforcement agencies in collaboration with NIJ.

How to Enter

Contestants must submit their entries via the “U.S. Department of Justice Body Armor Challenge” announcement during the Challenge Submission Period. Entries must be made through the Office of Justice Programs Grants Management System (GMS). Registration and entry are free.

The Challenge will use a two-stage submission process.

Phase 1: Contestants shall submit a prospectus that addresses four key elements. The prospectus must describe: (1) the proposed solution; (2) how it will be implemented; (3) the expected cost of that implementation; and (4) the rationale for that solution based on a clear understanding of the physical properties of soft body armor and its construction as well as its interactions with its environment. Entries that propose solutions to determine the performance of ballistic plates or trauma plates will be disqualified. Entries that propose solutions that render soft body armor unfit for further service will be disqualified. Soft body armor is “unfit for service” if its ballistic resistance capability has been degraded.

Proposals in Phase 1 shall include:

  • A prospectus that shall not exceed five pages, submitted in PDF format.
  • A cover page for the prospectus (not counted against the five-page limit).
  • A one-page biographical sketch of the contestant(s) describing any relevant qualifications or experience (not counted against the five-page limit). All team members should be included in this one-page addendum.

Once an entry is submitted, no changes may be made. Any entry exceeding the page limits or failing to address the four key elements will be disqualified. All qualifying Phase 1 entries will be judged according to the Judging Criteria.

Phase 2: Up to five contestants may be invited to submit a full proposal to describe their approach in more detail. Those selected for Phase 2 will be the highest scoring, viable approaches submitted in Phase 1 as judged according to the Judging Criteria.

The proposal should elaborate on the four key elements included in the Phase 1 prospectus. Proposals that deviate from the prospectus in terms of substance, methodology, or technical approach will be disqualified.

Phase 2 entries shall include:

  • A full proposal that shall not exceed 30 pages, submitted in PDF format.
  • A cover page (not counted against the 30-page limit), submitted in PDF format.
  • A two-page addendum (not counted against the 30-page limit) that includes a biographical sketch of the contestant(s). In the case of a team entry, each team member’s biographical sketch shall be limited to two pages.

Once a proposal is submitted, no changes may be made. Any entry exceeding the page limits will be disqualified. All qualifying entries will be judged according to the “Judging Criteria” described in Section IV.

Important Dates (Tentative)

  • Phase 1 Submission Period Begins: September 14, 2012.
  • Phase 1 Submission Period Ends: December 14, 2012.
  • Phase 1 Judging Period Begins: December 15, 2012.
  • Phase 1 Judging Period Ends: March 15, 2013.
  • Phase 1 Winners Announced: March 15, 2013.
  • Phase 2 Submission Period Begins: March 16, 2013.
  • Phase 2 Submission Period Ends: May 16, 2013.
  • Phase 2 Judging Period Begins: May 17, 2013.
  • Phase 2 Judging Period Ends: July 17, 2013.
  • Phase 2 Winners Announced: August 16, 2013.


The Challenge will be judged by a distinguished panel of judges with expertise in one or more of the following areas: law enforcement, metrology, ballistic materials, and body armor. Phase 1 and Phase 2 entries will be judged according to the criteria listed in Section IV. Reviewer ratings and recommendations are advisory. The Director of NIJ or his designee will make the final award determination. If the Director of NIJ determines that no entry is deserving of the award, no prize will be awarded. The award of any prize is subject to the availability of appropriated funds.

Judging Criteria

The following criteria will be used to judge Challenge entries:

  • Potential of the proposed solution for determining the ballistic performance of individual in-service soft body armor at any point during its service life to a high degree of certainty (50%).
  • Applicability of proposed solution to different types of soft body armor composed of different materials (30%).
  • Ease of implementing the proposed solution by state and local law enforcement agencies, including considerations of time and cost associated with implementing the proposed solution in practice (20%).


A Challenge prize of up to $50,000 is available. Of that, $25,000 will be apportioned equally among the contestants invited to submit a Phase 2 proposal. The remaining $25,000 will be awarded to the contestant deemed to be the winner of Phase 2. Should there be a tie score, the Phase 2 prize will be apportioned among the winners equally. In the case of a team entry, the team will be considered a contestant and receive any prize money as a group.

Subject to the availability of appropriated funds and to any modifications or additional requirements that may be imposed by law, the contestant submitting the winning solution may be afforded the opportunity to have the solution evaluated by one or more law enforcement agencies selected by NIJ. NIJ is solely responsible for arranging any and all evaluations.

Other Rules and Conditions

Submission Period

The Challenge Phase 1 Submission Period begins on September 14, 2012, and ends on December 14, 2012. The Challenge Phase 2 Submission Period begins on March 16, 2013, and ends on May 16, 2013. Entries submitted before or after the designated Submission Periods will not be reviewed.


The Challenge is open to: (1) individual residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa who are at least 13 years old at the time of entry; (2) teams of eligible individuals; and (3) corporations or other legal entities (e.g., partnerships or non-profit organizations) that are domiciled in any jurisdiction specified in (1). Entries by contestants under the age of 18 must include the co-signature of the contestant’s parent or legal guardian. Contestants may submit or participate in the submission of more than one entry. Employees of NIJ and individuals or entities listed on the Federal Excluded Parties list (available on SAM.gov) are not eligible to participate. Employees of the Federal Government should consult with the Ethics Officer at their place of employment prior to submitting an entry for this Challenge. The Challenge is subject to all applicable federal laws and regulations. Submission of an entry constitutes a contestant's full and unconditional agreement to all applicable rules and conditions. Eligibility for the prize award is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.

General Warranties and Conditions

Release of Liability: By entering the Challenge, each contestant agrees to: (1) comply with and be bound by all applicable rules and conditions, and the decisions of NIJ, which are binding and final in all matters relating to this Challenge; (2) release and hold harmless NIJ and any other organizations responsible for sponsoring, fulfilling, administering, advertising or promoting the Challenge, and all of their respective past and present officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives (collectively, the "Released Parties") from and against any and all claims, expenses, and liability arising out of or relating to the contestant’s entry or participation in the Challenge, and/or the contestant’s acceptance, use, or misuse of the prize or recognition.

The Released Parties are not responsible for: (1) any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by contestants, printing errors or by any of the equipment or programming associated with, or utilized in, the Challenge; (2) technical failures of any kind, including, but not limited to malfunctions, interruptions, or disconnections in phone lines or network hardware or software; (3) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Challenge; (4) technical or human error which may occur in the administration of the Challenge or the processing of entries; or (5) any injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from contestant's participation in the Challenge or receipt or use or misuse of any prize. If for any reason a contestant's entry is confirmed to have been erroneously deleted, lost, or otherwise destroyed or corrupted, contestant's sole remedy is to submit another entry in the Challenge.

Termination and Disqualification: NIJ reserves the authority to cancel, suspend, and/or modify the Challenge, or any part of it, if any fraud, technical failures, or any other factor beyond NIJ’s reasonable control impairs the integrity or proper functioning of the Challenge, as determined by NIJ in its sole discretion. NIJ reserves the authority to disqualify any contestant it believes to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Challenge or to be acting in violation of any applicable rule or condition. Any attempt by any person to undermine the legitimate operation of the Challenge may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, NIJ reserves the authority to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law. NIJ’s failure to enforce any term of any applicable rule or condition shall not constitute a waiver of that term.

Intellectual Property: By entering the Challenge, each contestant warrants that he or she is the author and/or authorized owner of the entry, and that the entry is wholly original with the contestant (or is an improved version of an existing solution that the contestant is legally authorized to enter in the Challenge), and that the submitted entry does not infringe any copyright, patent, or any other rights of any third party. Each contestant agrees to hold the Released Parties harmless for any infringement of copyright, trademark, patent, and/or other real or intellectual property right, which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from contestant's participation in the Challenge.

Publicity: By entering the Challenge, each contestant consents, as applicable, to NIJ’s use of his/her/its name, likeness, photograph, voice, and/or opinions, and disclosure of his/her/its hometown and State for promotional purposes in any media, worldwide, without further payment or consideration.

Privacy: Personal and contact information submitted through www.challenge.gov is not collected for commercial or marketing purposes. Information submitted throughout the Challenge will be used only to communicate with contestants regarding entries and/or the Challenge.

Compliance With Law: By entering the Challenge, each contestant guarantees that the entry complies with all Federal and state laws and regulations.

Malware: In the event that a Phase 2 proposal includes a computer software component, each contestant warrants that his or her submission is free of viruses, spyware, malware, or any other malicious, harmful, or destructive device. Contestants submitting entries containing any such device will be held liable and may be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Specific Disqualification Rule

If the announced winner of the Challenge prize is found to be ineligible or is disqualified for any of the reasons listed under Section VI, Other Rules and Conditions, NIJ may make the award, instead, to the next runner up, as previously determined by the NIJ Director.

Winner and Recognition

Following the announcement of the award, the Challenge winner will be honored at an NIJ event in Washington, DC. It is also anticipated that the winner may be invited to attend the FY 2013 annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to be recognized for their contribution to the safety of law enforcement officers.

NIJ will reimburse the authorized travel expenses for these events incurred by an individual Challenge winner or up to three members of the winning team, or up to three representatives of a winning organization, for transportation expenses (including but not limited to airfare and local ground transportation) to and from the events, and up to three days of per diem expenses for each event at the currently approved Federal Per Diem rate for the event locations. For reimbursement, receipts to document travel expenses must be provided, and the travel expenses will be reimbursed according to Federal Government travel rules and regulations, including 41 CFR 300-3.1 (Invitational Travel).

Prize Disbursement and Requirements

Prize winners must comport with all applicable laws and regulations regarding prize receipt and disbursement.

Rights Retained by Contestants and Challenge Winners

(a)  All legal rights in any materials or products submitted in entering the Challenge are retained by the contestant and/or the legal holder of those rights. Entry in the Challenge constitutes express authorization for NIJ staff and NIJ’s selected panel of judges to review and analyze any and all aspects of submitted entries, including the source code and any trade secret or proprietary information contained in or evident from review of the source code.

(b) Upon acceptance of any Challenge prizes, the winning contestants grant a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual and irrevocable right to the National Institute of Justice to use, and authorize others to use the winning solution (in whole or in part, including in connection with derivative works) for Federal purposes.

Date Created: August 30, 2013