Shield or No Shield? That is the Question.
By Dennis O'Connor, Director of Training
Shields have been used by warriors in battles throughout the ages and in wars around the world. Historically shields were used to protect the warrior from edged weapon attacks and as cover from projectile weapons. Shield usage is still alive and well and the modern day equivalent is the "ballistic shield". The ballistic shield works much the same as the shields of old but must now defeat a much faster projectile in the bullet and because of this they are still considered a vital piece of equipment for a tactical team. That being said, do ballistic shields provide valid protection for the team or is there a false sense of security about its use? What are its true applications specific to a tactical team and its movements? These are questions that need to be asked and answered and not just taken at face value.
The ballistic shield rating under National Institute of Justice (NIJ) at levels III and IV ballistic protection are capable of stopping a multitude of ammunitions to include some higher caliber rifle rounds. So, YES! The ballistic shield is a viable piece of equipment for today's tactical teams when it comes to additional ballistic cover. That being said; in ancient times every warrior was issued a shield and a single shield was used to protect the individual carrying it or all were joined to protect the team. Today's entry teams using shields will be covered by one or two shields and only when the team is in linear formation, so it is dramatically different in that aspect.
The issues with the ballistic shield in current day law enforcement is in tactical movements; we attempt to conceal and protect and entire team behind one or two shields. We need to understand to accomplish this task, each operator would need to be roughly the same height, same weight and stand linearly behind the shield barer and mimic their movements to remain behind cover. This is unrealistic when considering the dynamic aspects of room clearing so we should reconsider the true value of the ballistic shield in this tactical application.
The ballistic shield is however of value to the protection of the shield barer but as stated previously offers limited protection to the team behind them. For example, ballistic shields being used in movements to the breach point only protect from a frontal assault and at the breach point the ballistic shield gives minimal protection at best to a breaching element as it cannot effectively cover the breacher running their entry tools. Once entry is made, the ballistic shield losses all of its value since the team splits and moves in different directions. Even though in these cases it loses capability, it does not mean ballistic shields do not have value in this environment.
What should teams train for with the use of ballistic shields? Answer: Slow and deliberate clears and similar controlled movments. Even in this context, the team must however remain extremely disciplined to maintain cover behind the shield barer. Situations such a: downed officer or citizen recoveries; limited penetration; surround and callouts; movements to a vehicle assaults or to a breach points and the delivery of items in a barricade or hostage situation. These team movements can be effectively enhanced by the ballistic shield because it does not diminish the speed and superiority of dynamic movements of the individuals as they are now working in unison with the shield barer.
Although there are limitations to the ballistic shield and its use, it still remains a valid tool for today's tactical teams and should never be discounted as a viable resource to the team. The ballistic shield will most likely always remain a vital piece of equipment to be utilized by tactical teams and therefore should be trained with frequently but just as with any other piece of specialized equipment the ballistic shield serves its function and must be properly utilized within its capacity.