The experience of converting Centurion tanks into armored personnel carriers (Nagmashot, Nagmachon) and combat engineering vehicles (Puma, Nakpadon), followed by the successful conversion of many T-54 and T-55 tanks into Achzarit infantry fighting vehicles pushed the idea of converting Merkava tanks into heavily armored APCs / IFVs. The concept held great promise, because many of the 250 Merkava Mark I tanks were being gradually withdrawn from service and it was also made clear that the 105 mm armament of the Merkava Mark IIs could not be upgraded to the more modern IMI 120 mm gun.
The development did not progress much in the 1990s due to lack of funds, but following 2004 Israel–Gaza conflict, which exposed the vulnerability of the M113 armored personnel carrier to improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades, the IDF re-opened the development. At that point domestic production of Namer was preferred over purchasing the Stryker armored personnel carrier.
Eventually, IDF Ordnance developed infantry fighting vehicle prototypes based on the Merkava Mark I chassis, and also a handful of IFVs based on the Merkava Mark IV chassis. The vehicle was initially called Nemmera (Hebrew: leopardess), but later renamed to Namer (Hebrew: leopard), while the name Nemmera refers to a Merkava-based ARV.
On 15 February 2005, Maariv reported that a running Namer prototype based on the Merkava Mark I was fielded by the Givati Brigade for trials and evaluation. It was equipped with a Rafael Overhead Weapon Station, which is remotely controlled and loaded from within the vehicle. This same unit was demonstrated at the Eurosatory 2005 military exhibition where prospective export customers showed interest.
Lessons learned in the battles of the 2006 Lebanon War also largely validated this program. Consequently, in 2007 it was reported that the first fifteen Namers would be delivered in 2008, and over a hundred more would finally equip two combat brigades. However, conversion plans were abandoned in favor of newly built Merkava Mark IV chassis.
On 1 March 2008, an operational, started from scratch and fully developed Namer IFV based on Merkava Mark IV chassis was officially presented by the IDF. Reportedly, the construction was expedited in May 2008 by importing parts from the US. On 15 September 2008, the Namer was unveiled to the general public at an exhibition in Rishon LeZion.
To speed up the production of the Namers (which have been taking place domestically) on 25 October 2010, it was announced that General Dynamics Land Systems had been chosen to negotiate a contract to manufacture and integrate an unspecified number of vehicle hulls at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio.
After cutting back orders for the Namer in 2014 due to budget constraints, in 2015 the IDF ramped up orders for parts, in expectation for orders of complete systems. The move is in part a response to the death of 7 Golani Brigade soldiers who were killed by an RPG in Gaza while riding a Vietnam War-era M113. The orders from General Dynamics are occurring alongside domestic production of the vehicles.
It was originally planned to be equipped with Israel Military Industries's Iron Fist active protection system, however due to budget limitations this was delayed. From 2015, the IDF will begin to fit some Namers with Rafael's Trophy active protection system.
Namer has been designed for survivability and rapid repair, with modular armor, V-shaped belly armor pack, and NBC protection.
According to Brigadier general Yaron Livnat, they are more heavily armored than the Merkava IV tanks: "The weight saved by eliminating the turret was 'reinvested' in beefing up the armor."
From 2015 onwards, it is planned for some of them to begin to be equipped with a Trophy active protection system.
Israel's defense ministry stated in 2015: "The Namer is considered to be the most protected armored combat vehicle in the world, which proved its abilities during fighting in Operation Protective Edge against many threats." As a result it plans to introduce more of the vehicles into the army over the next decade, to replace the M113s currently in service.
Namer is armed with either a M2 Browning machine gun or a Mk 19 grenade launcher mounted on a Samson Remote Controlled Weapon Station, a 7.62 mm (FN MAG) machine gun, a 60 mm mortar. Smoke grenade launchers are also carried. Mounting an external remote controlled 30-mm autocannon and Spike anti-tank guided missiles is also being considered.
Namer is capable of maneuvering in difficult terrain, powered by the Teledyne Continental AVDS-1790-9AR 1,200 hp (895 kW) V12 air-cooled diesel engine of the Merkava Mark III. Namer is able to carry up to 12 troops (crewmen and fully equipped infantrymen) and one stretcher, or two stretchers and medical equipment on a Namerbulance MEDEVAC version. The original Merkava Mark IV rear entrance was redesigned to be a wider door ramp with a sniper port. Two hatches are fitted on the roof, which is higher than Merkava's hull roof. Namer also shares a digital battlefield management system with Merkava Mark IV.