Software Issues Ground Luftwaffe Tornadoes at Night in the Fight Against Daesh

The first ASSTA 3.0 (Avionics System Software Tornado ADA) production aircraft during its maiden flight at Airbus Defence and Space 's Manching site on 8 February 2012. (Photograph copyright Airbus Group, 2012)

According to the International Business Times and, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) is currently unable to use their Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers at night while assisting in reconnaissance operations against Daesh (ISIS). As it turns out, the cause of this issue is the recent Avionic System Software Tornado ADA (ASSTA)-3/3.1 upgrades, which the Luftwaffe intends on pushing its Tornado fleet through, concluding the process in 2018 if not earlier. ASSTA-3/3.1 includes the installation of new multifunction displays, which apparently don’t work well with night vision goggles during night flights.

To enable vision outside the cockpit during nighttime operations, pilots are equipped with night optical/observation devices (NODs or Night Vision Goggles), mounted to their helmets. Without getting too deeply into the science and mechanics behind how they work, NODs/NVGs take all available light and amplify it such that the wearer can see well enough at night to function with reasonable precision. However, this also means that they amplify existing light, which can sometimes result in the picture “washing out”, temporarily disorienting and blinding the wearer.

The ASSTA-3/3.1 software installed on the Tornado jets contributed by the German government to the aerial component operating against Daesh increases the brightness of the displays, washing out the NODs the pilot and weapons officer (in the rear cockpit). As you can imagine, this tends to be a very dangerous prospect, especially for pilots flying a state-of-the-art supersonic fighter in blackened night skies. This means that reconnaissance flights at night over Iraq and Syria are a strict no-go for the German Tornadoes. Spokespeople for the Luftwaffe informed news media that a solution was in the works, and this would not pose a significant hindrance to the mission at hand. The Tornadoes can still function well enough during daylight operations.

About Ian D'Costa (240 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at

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