Few armored personnel carriers are as heavily armored as the ones conjured up by Israel. But of them, one stands out as a true mobile bunker, the Namer. Meaning “Tiger” in Hebrew, the Namer doesn’t have a main gun nor a turret, yet, due to its protection, still weighs 60 tons.
How does one go about putting so much armor on “just” an armored personnel carrier? You build it on the chassis of a main battle tank, of course!
The Namer is built upon the Merkava IV. By using a main battle tank chassis, Israel could cover it in armor while maintaining reasonable interior space. Their Ministry of Defense claims that is the most heavily protected vehicle on the planet, even more so than their Merkava IV.
But not only does the Namer walk the walk, it looks awesome while doing it. And, as us tank nuts know, looks are extremely important.
Israel’s need for heavily armored personnel carriers (APCs) dates back to the 1970s and 80s, when the nation came into significant conflict with its neighbour, Lebanon. Lebanon was extremely unstable at the time as a result of many political and religious disagreements in the region.
The country fell into a civil war in the 1970s and Israel soon became involved, either directly or indirectly.
During this period the Israel Defense Force (IDF) faced intense urban fighting and guerrilla warfare, a bad situation for armored vehicles. At the time Israel’s primary APC was the M113. The M113 was constructed from aluminium and was extremely vulnerable to any sort of anti-armor weaponry, resulting in heavy losses for Israel’s manoeuvring troops.
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In typical Israeli fashion, they quickly created a series of stopgap APCs by repurposing outdated vehicles in their inventory. These include the Nagmachon, based on the Centrion, and the Achzarit, based on the T-54/55. Both of these carried extremely heavy armor, but the rear-engine hulls they were built on weren’t ideal for this purpose.
Israel investigated the possibility of using the Merkava as a basis for a new APC around this time, but budget constraints prevented the project from continuing.
However, by the early 2000s Israel had been involved in more conflicts and revived the idea, producing a prototype based on the Merkava I named the Namera (Lioness).
The Merkava was perfect for conversion into an APC. Its engine is located at the front, enabling the passenger compartment and entrance to be located at the rear. APCs require a rear-facing passenger compartment so troops can mount and dismount in cover.
In fact, the Merkava main battle tanks (MBTs) already had a door at the rear for ammunition loading. Also, by using the Merkava I Israel could recycle outdated hulls.
The Namera was officially unveiled in 2005. This new, heavily armored APC garnered some interest on the export market but no sales were made.
Shortly afterwards, Israel discarded the Merkava I-based Namera, as making an APC on the newer Merkava IV hull was found to be easier and cheaper. In addition, the IDF was eager to apply lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War in 2006 to this new APC.
And with that, the Namer was born. Development began in 2007, and was unveiled to the public in 2008 classed as an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).
The Merkava IV-based Namer was similar to the preceding Namera. Its engine is located at the front while its crew compartment is located in the back.
Like the tank it is based on, the Namer prioritises occupant protection. The reduction in weight made by removing the Merkava’s turret was added back in with armor.
It is fitted with thick modular composite armor and reactive armor developed by IMI, as well as a strong, V-shaped hull to defend against mine blasts. The crew and passengers’ seats add to this, as they are not attached to the floor and are designed to reduce the impact of a mine detonation.
Even if the Namer is damaged, its modular armor can be quickly replaced.
The interior has been built from non-flammable materials, and an NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) overpressure system is fitted to allow the vehicle to operate in harsh environments.
Despite all of this armor, the Namer can still carry a total of 12 people; commander, gunner, driver and eight passengers.
Passengers enter and exit the vehicle at the rear through a hydraulic ramp. In the center of this ramp is a small port, from which a weapon can be fired through if necessary.
The driver is situated in the front left of the hull in the same position as on the Merkava. The commander and gunner are located on the left and right of the hull respectively, behind the driver.
The vehicle is air conditioned and contains water for its occupants. It even has a toilet!
Cameras located around the vehicle give them an excellent perspective of the Namer’s entire surroundings even when completely buttoned down. They are also able to defend the vehicle with a remote weapons station on the roof.
One of the more recent additions to the Namer is the Trophy active protection system (APS). An APS is designed to counter incoming projectiles, such as guided missiles and rocket-propelled grenades before they hit the vehicle. Due to budget constraints these only began being fitted to the Namer in 2016.
With all of these features, the Namer is certainly not light, nor is it small. In fact, weighing 60 tons and measuring 7.5 meters (24 ft 7 in) long and 3.8 meters (12 ft 5 in) wide, it rivals some MBTs in scale.
Pushing this monstrous vehicle along is a 1,200 hp AVDS-1790-9AR V12 air-cooled diesel engine, which gives it a top speed of 37 mph (60 kph).
An improved MTU MT883 V12 diesel engine is planned for use in the Namer, having been purchased from the US by Israel in 2019 for $238 million.
The Namer saw its first large scale use in the 2014 Gaza War, also known as Operation Protective Edge. Here, Israel fought intense urban and even subterranean battles against Hamas, using lessons from the Second Lebanon War to their advantage.
In particular, the Namer proved extremely valuable in these circumstances, able to bring troops in and out of battle in complete safety despite threats coming from every angle. In fact, Namers became temporary bomb shelters for Israeli troops, as they came to rest in them rather than nearby buildings.
In one situation in Gaza, Israeli troops climbed into nearby Namer and ordered and artillery strike on their own position. Hamas eventually found that they were simply unable to knock these IFVs out, even with powerful anti-tank weapons (reportedly, the 9M133 Kornet failed to penetrate).
No Namers were lost in the conflict.
The Namer IFV is not the only vehicle on this chassis, however. There is already the Namer CEV, an engineer version that is also heavily armored and protected by Trophy APS, but there is also plans for command and medivac versions.
A more dramatic modification was unveiled in 2017. This type was fitted with an unmanned turret that contained a 30 mm cannon, greatly increasing the offensive capabilities of the vehicle.
The turret did not protrude into the passenger compartment, so it didn’t reduce the tactical practicality of the Namer.
Though production of the Namer has been slow due to refocussing and a lack of budget, Israel is still keen to receive more, aiming to acquire a total of 530.
So, with all that being said, it seems likely that the Namer is currently the single most well protected combat vehicle on the planet today. Its sheer weight of 60 tons indicates a significant amount of its volume consists of armor, which is present on the roof, front and sides.
When combining this with the Trophy APS, its easy to see that very little is getting through this beast.