The Merkava Namer (Leopard) Story

The Israeli army has maintained a particular way of fighting based largely on its experience in large-scale and localized combat. Before the 1980s, the Israelis relied heavily on foreign-made military hardware from Europe and the United States, as well as large quantities of Soviet hardware seized from neighboring enemies.

Eventually, in the 1970s, a local main battle tank (MBT) initiative in Israel produced the superb Merkava series of main battle tanks that became one of the best in the world. The Merkava Mk I was officially used by the Israeli army in 1979.

As with any combat system, technology and tactics tend to fail on the battlefield. Early foreign-made MBTs were eventually transformed into disgraceful roles such as engineering ships, bridge decks, minesweepers, etc.

Another major branch eventually became the armored personnel carrier (APC), many of which evolved from the T-54, T-55 and Centurion main battle tanks. With the introduction of the Merkava Mk II series in 1983, the Merkava Mk I brand more or less went out of its way.

Around 580 Mk II systems will be produced on the Mk I, for a total of just 250, with the Mk III series to follow in 1990, followed by the penultimate variant - the Merkava Mk IV in 2004. Since there are many discontinued Mk I tanks in stock, this is to now involve modifying the existing chassis to accommodate the needs of the new Israeli Indigenous Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), which was designed to meet the needs of the Israeli Army This is a quality that many foreign-made IFVs lack. Development began in the 1990s and turned out to be a rather disappointingly protracted affair, largely due to a lack of funding.

In fact, the Israeli army has a large number of qualified APCs -- some modified and other specialized foreign-sourced systems -- already in stock, including the long-standing American M113 series.

In 2004, fighting broke out between Palestinian Hamas/Islamic Jihad Chinese fighters and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The militants aimed rockets at the Negev and Sderot, and Israel responded with airstrikes before ground strikes to smother enemy positions. Israeli armor has played a role in several battles with mixed results, as militants used automatic weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket-propelled grenades, support machine guns and mortars in a guerrilla-like way of fighting , which sometimes caught Israeli vehicles off guard. The conflict in particular demonstrated the aging nature of the M113, as it proved extremely vulnerable to a variety of explosive attacks, prompting the IDF to seek a long-term solution.

The M113 is a popular armored personnel carrier with around 80,000 produced, but it has technical limitations - its origins date back to the 1950s. The battlefield in 2004 was very different from the M113's initial engagement with the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

There are also significant differences between the concepts of IFV and APC. The former were always used in direct combat roles in support of the infantry, so armed - some even had anti-tank capabilities - but all forms had larger caliber weapons and limited interior passenger seating.

Armored personnel carriers are generally designed to deploy and withdraw infantry while protecting it from other elements, so they can carry more troops, but are generally less armored and armed for sustained fire missions. Modern battlefields require the use of infantry fighting vehicles to enhance the operations of units such as main battle tanks and infantry.

The final step has now been taken to produce the infantry fighting vehicles required by the IDF. The obsolete Merkava Mk I series tank chassis will serve as the basis for the design, both to speed up development and to keep costs in check. The turret assembly was completely removed to make room for the enlarged fighting compartment and passenger compartment. The tank's chassis has been largely preserved due to its proven robustness and versatility in the operational environment experienced by the Israeli army.

A new fuselage structure was added, slightly higher than the Merkava fuselage top cover, which features sloping front and side panels for basic ballistic protection. The Merkava's front-engine position was also retained, providing additional forward protection for the occupants as one of the vehicle's most critical fairings. The driver maintains his left front torso position. The top of the hull is flat and accommodates two access hatches, one for the vehicle commander and the other for specialized weapons specialists. Side skirt armor protects the sensitive upper landing gear and track sections.

The drive sprocket is fixed at the front, the chain idler is at the rear, and there are six road sprockets on each chain side. A remote-controlled multi-faceted weapon station is added to the right side of the top of the fuselage. The weapon pack is designed around the Raphael Overhead Weapon Station and can accommodate either a heavy 12mm Browning M2 machine gun or a standard 7.62mm general purpose machine gun.

Observation decks at each station provide key crews with vantage points inside the car. Overall, the new Israeli design has emerged as a capable IFV effort with proven combat pedigree and the ability to carry and evacuate passengers with relative protection in a variety of environments.

The first prototype was delivered for formal evaluation in February 2005.

In 2006, the Israelis were involved in another local conflict, this time with neighbouring Lebanon in July and August. The months-long initiative has largely targeted Hezbollah forces and was once again driven by rocket attacks by militants. The Israeli army is back in service and the need for a capable infantry fighting vehicle remains clear until the United Nations steps in to secure a new ceasefire between the two sides.

The development and evaluation of new Israeli infantry fighting vehicles continued unimpeded, so the design at this time was based on the chassis of the new Merkava Mk IV series main battle tanks. The original Raphael Weapon Station was replaced by the new Samson Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS). The rear hatch of the MBT Merkava Mk IV has been enlarged to allow faster entry and exit of infantry.

The standard crew consisted of three people, including the driver, commander and gunner, while the rear compartment provided seating for nine combat-ready infantry. The fighting compartment occupies the center of the vehicle, the commander is on the left side of the hull, and the weapon station is on the right front. Prototype delivered for review in March 2008. That same year, the system ended up serving on the front lines of the Israeli army under the name "Nemmera", which translates from Hebrew to "Leopardin".

However, the name was later changed to "Namer", which became the masculine form of "Leopard".

Production of the Namer has been ongoing since 2008, of which around 60 have been produced at the time of writing (2012). U.S. companies provide additional manufacturing services. The engine selected was a Teledyne Continental Series AVDS-1790-9AR 1200 hp air-cooled turbo V12 diesel engine made in the United States. Top road speed is around 40 mph and range is 310 miles.

The chassis is suspended on coil spring suspension.

Once complete, the nominee can mount a 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine gun or a belt-driven 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. Additional weapons include the use of the 7.62mm Fabrique-National FN MAG Series General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) on the Commander's Cupola. A 60mm field mortar is also envisaged to provide indirect high-explosive "strikes" against embedded targets. All weapons functioned well as support fire to suppress the enemy and help overtake positions through calculated actions with infantry. Regardless of the weapon, the crew can operate and reload the weapon on the RCWS with the safety of the vehicle - an intrinsic value of the remote-controlled weapon installation.

Twelve smoke grenade launchers (in two separate platoons of six) were added to the aft hull sides for offensive and defensive shielding.

While the Namer's range is currently limited, it represents a promising new addition to the frontline armored personnel carrier. If the project goes according to plan, approximately 800 vehicles will eventually be procured to replace the APCs currently being phased out. Serve the Israeli army and standardize and simplify the army's inventory in many ways.

Additionally, the Namer/Merkava IV chassis will undoubtedly spawn many other battlefield-focused vehicles in the near future. After several years of combat use, the RCWS's weapon options have also continued to expand - primarily to meet the growing needs of the Israeli military for very specific types of enemies and operating environments (mainly cities).

Although Namer has no official foreign operator, Azerbaijan is seen as a possible first candidate for the new car.

Merkava Namer (Leopard) Specification


IDF Regulations - Israel
120 units


- Infantry Support

- Reconnaissance (RECCE)

- Troop Transport



66 tons (60,000 kg; 132,277 lbs)


1 x Teledyne Continental AVDS-1790-9AR V12 air-cooled turbo diesel engine 1,200 hp.


Maximum Speed:

60 km/h

Maximum range:

311 miles (500 km)

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1 x 12.7mm Browning M2 heavy machine gun or 1 x 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher in the Samson Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS).

1 x 7.62mm FN MAG general purpose machine gun mounted on the commander's cupola.

1 x 60mm Field Mortar.

12 Smoke Grenade Launchers.

Under consideration:

1 x 30mm automatic cannon in the turret.

Spike ATGM (Anti-Tank Missile).


1,200x12.7mm ammo.

3,000x7.62mm ammo.

300 x 40mm shells (estimate - if available).

30 x 60 mm mortar shell.

12 x Smoke Grenade.


Namer ("Leopard") - Base series name

Nemmera ("Leopard") - original name

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