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Ballistic shield is the modern day descriptor assigned to history’s most recent variety of hand-carried personal protective shields. Designed to deflect and/or defeat a wide range of high-velocity projectiles fired from modern weaponry such as handguns, long-guns and shotguns, modern ballistic shields provide protective cover to law enforcement and military personnel, enhancing both safety and mission capability.
Throughout the millennia of human conflicts, various designs of handheld personal protective shields have been used to enhance the physical safety of combatants and improve their chances of survival. During hand-to-hand combat and when deflecting deadly projectiles, the personal shield was considered a vital component of a warriors’ battle gear.
Petroglyphs found in caves dating back to the end of the last ice age picture the first known handheld protective shields. These early shields were constructed from wood and animal skins and protected hunters and food gatherers from hand-thrown rocks and rudimentary wooden spears. As civilizations advanced and improved their weaponry, shield designs and tactics changed to protect against these progressively stronger threats.
The personal battle shield was common to all ancient armies beginning with the Egyptians, Nubians and Hittites of the 14th century BCE. During the course of fourteen centuries, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Hoplites, Medes, Babylonians, Scythians, Persians, Etruscans, Tyrians, Macedonians, Carthaginians, Celtics, Numidias, Spartans, Romans, Sumerians, Moors, Seleucids and Gauls all shared military tactics developed to protect their warriors by standard use of hand-carried battle shields.
Technological advancements of swords and other forms of cutting and impact weapons required shields to be constructed utilizing more advanced materials and techniques, such as wood cores reinforced with bronze – often finished with decorative designs and intricate woodcarvings. Shields became more advanced and some shield designs, such as the Hopion used by the Spartans, were also used as offensive weaponry - when held horizontally, a Spartan warrior was trained to strike an opponent with the shield edge, inflicting grave injury from a well-placed blow.
The users of modern day ballistic shields share much in common with ancient shielded warriors when engaging enemies in mortal combat - both in style of shield and tactics used. Throughout the entirety of recorded history the hand-carried protective shield has rightfully earned the recognition as the longest consistently and almost universally utilized personal protective equipment the world has known.
Modern Day Ballistic Shields
Although modern ballistic shields are specifically designed to defeat handgun, long-gun and shotgun projectile threats, many will additionally defeat most types of stabbing or cutting type weaponry, and hand-thrown or launched projectiles such as rocks and arrows. Reputable ballistic shield manufacturers design and produce ballistic shields to be in compliance with specific government ballistic protection levels, including those promulgated by the United States National Institute of Justice (NIJ) ballistic materials test protocol NIJ-Std-0108.01, which destructively tests free-standing armor configurations with projectile threats appropriate to design capabilities.
The most capable of hand-carried ballistic shields will reliably defeat high-velocity center-fire rifle calibers at muzzle velocities. Although technically not a "shield" in the historical sense, wheel mounted rolling armored panel(s) pushed along the ground by users are being considered a subset of ballistic shields in the current marketplace.
With one hand holding the weapon and the other hand and arm devoted to holding the shield, the modern ballistic shield is considered "traditional" and amazingly similar in design with their ancient predecessors. Available in many shapes, sizes, and level of ballistic threat protection, traditional shields are generally rectangular shaped and hand-carried by one arm which allows the opposing hand to deploy a handgun around the shield's side vertical edge. Traditional shields are identified with a popular nickname coined by the tactical operators who carry them, the “Bunker Shield”.
Recent advances in material science have resulted in more efficient bullet protective composites and ceramic ballistic shield products. Considered by many to be the greatest advance in lightweight shield design is attributed to inventor and multiple patent holder Alfred J. Baker. His intrinsic contribution to shield design allows a shield user to place both hands on a long-gun, shotgun or handgun while simultaneously holding the shield in a protective position, and is appropriately named the “Baker Batshield®”. This non-traditional shield breaks with centuries of historic shield design by allowing both hands to effectively aim and operate a weapon in conjunction with the shield. All ancient and traditional modern shields require one arm/hand to be exclusively utilized for shield support/positioning, and the other hand available to hold a weapon. The Baker Batshield® enables both the users' hands to operate a weapon (long-gun or handgun) with normal center-line firing technique, while the support hand is able to protectively position the shield.
Mission compatibility is an important consideration when determining which shield design is most appropriate to provide protection against the anticipated threat(s). Also of importance is whether the shield will be used for defensive and observational purposes, such as tactical clearing operations by a SWAT team, or patrol operations requiring an armed response to neutralize an active shooter. In the article titled "How to Buy Personal Shields"  the author questions shield use purpose, "Will policy authorize shield use during offensive duties and/or multiple dangerous patrol duties such as vehicle stops, building searches, and approaching possibly armed individuals? Or will policy dictate purely defensive shield usage such as perimeter establishment, observation, and slow clearing operations?"
There is no "one size fits all" shield design solution to encompass all potential uses and possible threats to a ballistic shield and its' user. Many modern hand-carried ballistic shields provide clear armored viewing visors, lighting systems, kick-stands, carrying straps, and other features or options. Other designs are more basic and provide only a simple armor panel bolted onto a handle. A shield design whose coverage, protection level, mobility, visibility, and weapon integration/accuracy to increase the probabilities of mission success are valid considerations.
The hand-held personal protective ballistic shield is ageless equipment that can increase the physical safety level of personnel who may be subject to hostile attack in the performance of their duties.
- Newark, Tim. McBride, Angus (2000). Ancient Armies. Concord Publications Company. ISBN 962-361-646-5. Scribd.com Digital Library. Retrieved 17 June 2014. Ancient Armies
- Stewart, James K., Director, US Department of Justice, Technology Assessment Programs, September 1985
- Baker, Alfred J., United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent #'s 6,595,101 6,886,446 7,520,206
- Armellino, Rick. (08 March 2010). "How to Buy Personal Shields". PoliceOne.
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