A Guide to Ballistic & Tactical Eyewear

Ballistic Eyewear like the ESS Crossbow provide protection from extreme impact hazards found on the battfield

Ballistic Eyewear like the ESS Crossbow provide protection from extreme impact hazards found on the battfield

Although the U.S. Military is drawing down in several areas (Afghanistan for example), the importance of ballistic-rated eye protection is not going away and has in fact become a mainstay of our armed forces. In addition, the use of ballistic-rated eyewear has started to trickle down into non-military applications.

What is ballistic & tactical eyewear, & how does it differ from other eyewear?

In basic terms, ballistic refers to a free-moving object, such as a missile or cannon, fired from a fixed site. The term tactical refers to activity, such as bombing or using weapons, that usually supports military operations. Ballistic and tactical eyewear protects wearers from the dangers associated with these and similar situations.

In addition, ballistic and tactical eyewear provides additional protection in harsh military environments, such as the Middle East with its intense heat and frequent dust storms, and it does so at a standard well beyond those found for industrial-rated safety eye protection.

While ballistic-rated safety glasses and sunglasses are becoming one of the fastest growing segments of protective eyewear both inside and outside the military, there still seems to be a considerable amount of confusion over what actually classifies eyewear as ballistic rated.  The two terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but not all ballistic eyewear is necessarily intended for tactical use, and not all tactical eyewear is ballistic (though it should be).

The U.S. Military has issued rigorous ballistic tests that safety eyewear and sunglasses worn by military personnel have to pass. These tests, conducted in a field environment, include subjecting eyewear to projectiles at over four times the velocity of normal ANSI Z87.1 testing, the standard for industrial safety eyewear. ANSI (American National Standards Institute) tests projectiles at 150 fps, while the military requires testing projectiles at 650 (+/- 10) fps for spectacles and 550 fps for goggles.

Smith Elite Eyewear Ballistic Eyewear Chart

Smith Elite Eyewear provided this chart to quickly show the differences between ANSI Z87.1 and the Military Ballistic Standards.

According to The Army Vision and Conservation Readiness Program, in addition to impact safety requirements, the U.S. Army also wants eyewear to be functional, reasonably comfortable, to not have bright colors or distracting design, and to be able to be disinfected.

The military’s standards are outlined in the MCEP (Military Combat Eye Protection) Program, created by the Army’s PEO (Program Executive Office) Soldier authority, and the two main Military Ballistic Standards used for testing are MIL-PRF-31013 (spectacles) and MIL-DTL-43511D (goggles).

The Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry describes MCEP as “the umbrella program” with the purpose of:

  • Protecting eyes from external hazards including fragmentation, electromagnetic radiation, wind, sand and dust.
  • Providing vision correction to accommodate those needing corrective lenses.
  • Encouraging use in the field by providing variety in choices of sizes and styles.
  • Encouraging feedback to promote improved design.
Oakley SI Ballistic M Frame 3.0

Oakley Tactical eyewear like the Ballistic M Frame 3.0 is designed to fit under communication headsets used by today’s modern soldiers.

This briefing also details the requirements for submitting product to be considered for APEL (Authorized Protective Eyewear List), which is modified yearly as models improve and new models are submitted. For more information on MCEP Standards, see “Understanding U.S. Military Eye Protection (MCEP) Standards.”

(Note: In the European military, standards are set up a bit differently with the European EN166 standard identifying four levels of ballistic protection.)

The Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry also states that all APEL eyewear must bear the APEL logo, which is the single-best way to know eyewear is approved for military standards.

The military insists that personnel only wear approved eye protection not simply to have another regulation on its books, but because there is a significant need for a protection standard beyond what typically works for the civilian population.

How great is the need for ballistic and tactical eyewear in the military?

Military Eye Injury

Congress increased battlefield eye injury research to $10 million this year.

The Official Homepage of the United States Army recently published an article titled “Eye doctors teach combat trauma management” that illustrated the tremendous need for ballistic and tactical eyewear protection for individuals in the armed forces.

Consider the following information presented by these doctors:

  • Combat ocular trauma has stabilized due to widely implemented eye protection in the military.
  • The vast majority of combat eye injuries are due to explosion from high energy projectiles and improvised explosive devices rather than from gun shots or explosions.
  • Combat ocular trauma is more complicated and more likely to involve more than one body system than is civilian ocular trauma.

And the U.S. Congress apparently agrees with the importance of better eye care for our nation’s military since it has budgeted $10M for research.

The Military.com article “Congress Budgets $10M for Eye-Injury Research,” says that Defense Department statistics show the following startling data:

  • About 15% of injuries from battlefield trauma are to the eyes.
  • In just the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there were more than 200,000 eye-related injuries to military personnel.
  • About 75% of military personnel suffering traumatic brain injury also have eyesight problems.
  • Approximately 70% of our total sensory awareness comes from eyesight, making vision the most critical of the five senses, especially in combat conditions.

These statistics show the necessity of this funding and stress the importance of research for treating eye injury. They also serve to emphasize the importance of prevention through ballistic and tactical eyewear.

The need for ballistic and tactical eye protection extends well beyond military application, though, and into many areas of civilian life as well.  We’ll explore this in the next segment.  To be continued…

Smith Optics Elite Sunglasses – The Last Word In Tough, Tactical Technology

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “elite” as “the best of a class,” aptly fitting the military grade Smith Optics series: Smith Optics Elite. With two series making up this superior line – Tactical Core and Tactical Lifestyle, Smith Optics is upping the bar to safety sunglasses that have a comfortable fit, while being tough enough to have a place in real-life combat zones.

Smith Optics Elite Tactical Core Series

Like all of us here at Safety Glasses USA, Smith Optics honors the men and women serving our country, and set out to design Smith Optics Elite goggles and safety sunglasses to help protect their vision, and in turn, their lives. The Smith Optics Tactical Core Series emphasizes military grade impact protection that meets US MIL-DTL-43511D standards, with a snug fit that conforms to the face without sacrificing comfort. Smith Optics excels in all of its lines, includes:

Smith Optics Elite Outside-The-Wire Goggles

Smith Optics Elite Outside-The-Wire Goggles

  • Outside The Wire Tactical Goggle: A custom fit strap keeps these Smith Optics elite goggles securely on your face so you can succeed in any situation. Many of the goggles in this line feature several different lens colors, including gray, clear, and yellow, to ensure you have the right lens for every lighting condition.
  • Aegis ARC Eyeshield: If you’re in an area where shots can be fired, whether it’s a local shooting range or overseas combat situation, ballistic eyewear is absolutely vital. The Aegis ARC line boasts PivLock Lens Interchange Technology for quick lens changing and Tapered Lens Technology to combat distortion.
  • Boogie Regulator Goggles: Keep it simple, right? That’s the methodology behind Boogie Regulator Goggles – their ventilated lenses prevent fogging, with a silicone strap to ensure a snug fit. Of course, they also meet US MIL-DTL-43511D goggle impact level standards and are ANSI Z87.1 Compliant.

Smith Optics Elite Tactical Lifestyle Series

You may not find yourself in a combat situation anytime soon, but if you’re in a non-combat military or law enforcement role, you still need the resilience and protection that the Smith Optics Elite line can offer you. With lines ranging from the classic Smith Optics Elite Director sunglasses to the sleek Smith Optics Elite Hudson line, these sunglasses feature the Smith Optics Tapered Lens Technology to prevent distortion, while still meeting ANSI Z87.1 and MIL-PRF-31013 impact standards.

Smith Optics continues to raise the bar in crafting high performance safety sunglasses and goggles designed for the everyday ballistics enthusiast to the men and women protecting our country. We applaud Smith Optics for their continual emphasis on state-of-the-art technology and durability in all their sunglass and goggle lines.

Understanding U.S. Military Eye Protection (MCEP) Standard

Military Combat Eye Protection (MCEP)

MCEP's goal is to increase the number of soldiers who wear protective eyewear thus reducing the number of eye injuries sustained in training and combat.

The Military Combat Eye Protection Program (MCEPP) was established to validate and authorize protective eyewear for use by military personnel, and it works to improve soldier acceptance of authorized protective eyewear thus reducing the likelihood of eye injury to soldiers. MCEPP comes under the umbrella of Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier). PEO Soldier “designs, develops, procures, fields and sustains virtually everything the soldier wears or carries.”

The Army’s MCEPP program offers protection to soldiers’ eyes from ballistic fragments by allowing soldiers to choose their own approved eyewear. As more options are provided to soldiers, MCEPP hopes to increase the number of soldiers who wear protective eyewear thus reducing the number of eye injuries sustained by soldiers in training as well as in combat.

All approved military eyewear should meet or exceed protective standards established by the Integrative Protective Team (IPT). The IPT is a committee appointed by PEO Soldier to validate safety standards and test protocols and to approve new products for the Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL).

Commercial eyewear products are put through a rigorous testing procedure to determine their ability to withstand ballistic fragments such as rock, glass and shrapnel in both a laboratory and a field environment. Eyewear that passes these tests is included on the APEL, which is updated twice a year.

APEL is a listing published by PEO Soldier of all eyewear products that have been approved for military use by the MCEPP-IPT. All APEL items must be marked with a sticker on the packaging stating that the product is on the APEL. Anyone purchasing their own MCEP should look for this sticker. Only eyewear on the APEL has been validated against Army requirements for protection against ballistic fragments. Eyewear not on the APEL is not authorized for wear during combat or training or even when there is a risk of eye injury.

Products on the APEL are tested every two years and routinely sampled for compliance. APEL items with changes in the design or fabrication process require immediate retesting, and items can be placed on suspension resulting in recertification needed to get back on the list.

The APEL is published on the following website:


Sunglasses and goggles from a variety of makers such as ESS, Oakley, Revision, Uvex, Wiley-X and Arena have all made the APEL. Currently, MCEPP is working with vendors to make improvements in eyewear for soldiers. Improvements needed include better scratch, fog and impact protection as well as protection against exposure to contaminants such as bleach and dirt. In addition, new goggle colors, universal prescription inserts and agile laser protection are on the list of future interests for MCEPP.

Here’s additional information on the submission process for inclusion on the APEL. And here’s a link to an earlier article we did on “How to Identify Ballistic Rated Eyewear”.