The German newspaper Der Spiegel accessed a report from the Ministry of Defense stating that the 93 Panavia Tornados currently in use by the Luftwaffe need more urgent modernization than planned. The aircraft entered service in the 1970s, and their outdated internals could now compromise their use during a NATO operation.

The need for modernization does not strike as a surprise. It was already planned that the Tornados would be replaced by 2035. Germany is currently looking into acquiring either the Eurofighter Typhoon, or Lockheed Martin F-35, or Boeing F-18 and F-15, with a preference for the first. The procurement debate had led to the firing of the Chief of the Luftwaffe, Karl Müllner, after having openly lobbied for the F-35.

However, the current plan is to start the retirement by 2025. But the new information could accelerate the process. Both the IT system and the wiring of the jet are outdated and could potentially be interfered with by an enemy force. The communication system also lacks a sufficient level of encryption which is required during international operations. The Tornado targeting computer does not have an IFF (Identification, friend or foe) system that enables the pilot to dissociate enemies from allies’ aircraft. This could potentially lead to a friendly fire.

Airbus Defense and Space (formerly Cassidian) was initially tasked with upgrading the Tornados with the ASSTA 3.0 upgrade that would integrate the MIDS (NATO’s Multifunctional Information Distribution System) to allow the Luftwaffe to operate the fighters until 2025. But it has now come to light that the Tornados were too outdated to fit NATO’s requirements. Hypothetical updates would potentially cost millions per aircraft, and it is not clear if they are technically feasible or not.

The report is clear: as it is, “the Tornado weapon system could no longer participate in any NATO operation.” It could then make the German government reconsider its strategy on their replacement. For now, the Defense minister Ursula von der Leyen has postponed the Tornados retirement to 2035.