'Crazy Electric Catapult' Won't Be Used on New Aircraft Carriers, Trump Says

A sailor from the aircraft carrier Ford's air department loads an F/A-18F Super Hornet on to the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS). (Navy photo)
A sailor from the aircraft carrier Ford's air department loads an F/A-18F Super Hornet on to the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS). (Navy photo)

After talking to "the catapult people" about the Navy's new state-of-the-art system that launches aircraft from carriers, the president said he's ordering a return to steam systems on all new flattops.

President Donald Trump is no fan of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, known as EMALS, that was installed on the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford. Now, he says he'll mandate that future aircraft carriers return to the legacy system for launching aircraft.

"I'm just going to put out an order -- we're going to use steam," he told sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp on Monday during his recent trip to Japan. "We don't need that extra speed."

The Navy began launching and recovering aircraft aboard its newest Ford-class carrier using the EMALS technology almost two years ago. The system is designed to put less stress on aircraft by using electromagnetic catapults.

It's also meant to be more reliable and accurate, while requiring less maintenance than the older steam-based system, according to a Navy news release announcing its initial launches.

But steam, Trump said, has worked "perfectly" for 65 years. No one knows how the newer technology will hold up in combat, he said.

"I can imagine, in the case of battle, it must be very delicate, OK?" Trump said.

This isn't the first time Trump has made public comments about his distaste for EMALS. After a visit to the Ford, Trump told Time magazine in 2017 that sailors aboard told him the new system was "not good." He promised a return to "goddamned steam" during that interview.

Now, he appears to be honoring that promise.

"We want to go with steam," he told the troops on the Wasp. "They're always coming up with new ideas. They're making planes so complex you can't fly them. ... We all want innovation, but it's too much.

"There's never been anything like the steam catapults," Trump added.

San Diego-based aeronautical systems company General Atomics was awarded a $737 million contract in 2015 to deliver an advanced arresting gear and EMALS for the second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy. In 2017, the same company got a $532 million contract for another EMALS to be used on the carrier Enterprise, the Navy's third Ford-class flattop.

"I won't tell you this because it's before my time by a little bit, but they have a $900 million cost overrun on this crazy electric catapult," Trump said. "And I said, 'What was wrong with steam?'"

The president took an impromptu vote on the two systems during his speech on the Wasp, asking the service members to cheer for the one they prefer. When he called for cheers for steam, it got a noticeably louder response than the EMALS. When that system got one cheer from someone in the crowd, Trump joked that "he works for the enemy."

Delivery of the first EMALS was delayed by a year when testers found problems launching heavy aircraft.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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