The first initiative to establish a defence industry in Turkey dates back to the period of the Ottoman Empire. Standing strong up until the 17th century, defense industry couldn't keep up with the technological developments in Europe since the 18th century and totally lost its impact starting from World War 1.
Thus, there was no significant defence industry infrastructure during the first years of the Republic and the endeavors were limited to the establishment of a few facilities near Ankara during the Independence War. Acknowledging that defence industry is a part of the overall industrialization and development, the government decided to support and guide defence industry during the first planning period. However despite some important ventures in ammunition, weaponry and aircraft production, a solid infrastructure could not be established due to adverse internal and external factors.
Besides administrative and financial difficulties in maintaining and improving national capabilities, scarce national resources as well as procurement policies proved insufficient to fulfil defence equipment needs of the Turkish Armed Forces. In the post World War 2 era, attempts at defense production came to a complete halt as a result of the foreign military aid received upon improvement of bilateral relations with the United States and Turkey’s NATO membership.
However, regional problems Turkey faced in the 1960’s, Cyprus crises in 1963 and 1967, the Cyprus Peace Operation in 1974 and the arms embargo following the Peace Operation necessitated the development of a defence industry based on national resources. In 1974 Turkish Armed Forces Foundation was established with this understanding in mind and several investments, though limited, were initiated.
Machinery, craftsmen and workmen transferred discretely from İstanbul and its surroundings at the end of World War 1 played a crucial role in winning the War of Independence. Small scale and simple workshops in Ankara and environs and Erzurum not only provided light weapons and ammunition but also helped lay the foundation for a sound local defence industry infrastructure.
General Directorate of Military Facilities was set up in 1921. Establishing a weaponry and ammunition production capability was discussed for the first time during the İzmir Congress of Economics. Consequently a number of facilities were set up in Ankara and its surroundings between 1924 and 1943. In addition, a privately owned small facility producing pistols, 81 mm mortar and its ammunition, explosives and pyrotechnics, provided support to the Turkish Armed Forces during World War 2. In the meantime Gölcük Shipyard was set up for the maintenance of Yavuz battle cruiser in 1924 and Taşkızak Shipyard was reactivated in 1941.
Turkish aviation industry was set in motion with the establishment of Tayyare ve Motor Türk AŞ (TamTAŞ) in 1926. The facilities of TamTAŞ in Kayseri started production in 1928 and until 1939, a total of 112 aircraft –15 German Junkers A-20s, 15 US Hawk fighters, 10 US Fledging trainers, 15 German Gotha liaison aircraft –were produced. After completion of the maintenance of the aircraft in the inventory of the Turkish Air Force Command, TamTAŞ suspended aircraft production in 1939.
Meanwhile, 24 Nu. 37 aircraft and many gliders were produced in the aircraft facility founded by entrepreneur Nuri DEMİRAĞ in İstanbul in 1936 but this private firm was out of operation in 1943.
The first major initiative in the aviation industry was the formation of an aircraft facility by Turkish Aviation Association in Ankara in 1941. Starting production in 1944, this facility manufactured 80 Miles Magister trainer aircraft, two-engine ambulance aircraft THK-10 light transport aircraft, 60 Ugur two-seater trainer aircraft and various types of gliders. The first aircraft engine facility was set up in Ankara, in 1945 and started production in 1948. Several other facilities were founded in Malatya between 1942-43 in order to repair and maintain the aircraft procured from the United Kingdom during World War 2.
Instead of improving the local defence industry, Turkey depended on foreign aid and met its defence requirements through and in the framework of NATO during this period of Cold War and military and political polarization. Foreign military aid that started pouring in upon Turkey’s membership in NATO and soared within a short period, stalled the development of local defence industry which was still at its infancy.
As a result, efforts for the development of a local defence industry slowed down; orders of Turkish Armed Forces from local suppliers diminished inevitably, and in the end military facilities became a part of the Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKEK) which was formed as a State Economic Enterprise on 15 March 1950.
However, development of weaponry and military equipment was kept on the agenda by the Research and Development Department formed in 1954 under the Ministry of National Defence and in 1970 development studies of defence industry would be resumed.
It was a period of regional conflicts and the Cyprus issue. Cyprus crises in 1963 and 1967, the Cyprus Peace Operation in 1974, and the arms embargo imposed on Turkey as a result of this Peace Operation, necessitated the development of a national defence industry. Having suffered a great deal because of its dependence on foreign supply, Turkey started to seek ways to reactivate national defence industry. During this period when investments based on import substitution were common, production of G-3 and MG-3 rifles by MKEK under German licenses were concrete examples of this policy put into practice.
The 1970’s were an era when solid initiatives were put into force so as to establish a national defence industry. As a result of the national reaction to the arms embargo against Turkey, Armed Forces Foundation was established. Although the Foundation formed enterprises such as Aselsan, Havelsan, Aspilsan thanks to the donations, it was soon realized that the actual need for a contemporary defence industry could not be met through the Foundation alone.
During the 1980's, state initiative was undertaken to realize the modernization of the Turkish Armed Forces and the establishment of a national defence industry based on contemporary technology was determined as the primary goal.
The first step in this direction was taken by the establishment of Defence Equipment Directorate as a state enterprise. However, the shortcomings stemming from its inert status blocked its success and before long Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM) was born in 1985 under Law No:3238.