The Navy's new $13 billion supercarriers have a high-tech feature that is apparently driving Trump crazy

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy via Getty ImagesThe USS Gerald R. Ford underway on its own power for the first time on April 8, 2017.
  • In a wide-ranging speech on Tuesday, President Donald Trump highlighted his long-standing fixation with the Navy’s new Ford-class supercarrier.
  • Trump has repeatedly – and often unexpectedly – criticised the carrier’s new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, advocating the return of the steam launchers that were used for decades.
  • Trump has insisted that crew members must be “Albert Einstein” to operate the new systems, which have faced their share of developmental setbacks.

President Donald Trump likes to talk about the US Navy’s new, elite Ford-class aircraft carrier, which he has called a “100,000-ton message to the world.” But there is one frustrating thing he just cannot get over.

During a freewheeling 80-minute speech on Tuesday at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner – where Trump also warned of cancer-causing windmills – the president unexpectedly turned to an old fixation: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, on the Navy’s newest carrier.


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The Navy used EMALS instead of the steam launchers that were used for decades, as well as new advanced arresting gear, for smoother, more efficient launch and recovery operations. But developmental setbacks with the new equipment have driven up costs, delayed delivery, and repeatedly drawn Trump’s ire.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has been noticeably obsessed with and highly critical of this new system.


April 2019: “We have an aircraft carrier, you can’t send planes off the damn thing.”

At the NRCC dinner on Tuesday, Trump lamented problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford’s electromagnetic launch system.

“The great aircraft carrier, the Gerald Ford … it’s getting close,” the president said.

“The largest ship ever built, they say. It’s a massive ship,” he added. “But they’re having trouble with the catapult system, because it used to be steam … They have decided to go magnetic. Never been done before. And electronic. So it’s very, very complex.”

Trump, who said he learned of the problems with the launch system during a visit to the Ford, added that “you have to go to MIT to figure out how this damn thing works.”

“We have an aircraft carrier, you can’t send planes off the damn thing. Historically, that has not proven to be a good thing for aircraft carriers,” he said.

He added: “This thing is $US900 million over budget to throw the planes off, and we could have had steam, and it would have been done, and we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.”


November 2018: “You have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly.”

US Department of DefenceThe Ford in Newport News, Virginia.

In a call to service members on Thanksgiving last year, Trump brought up his problem with the catapults, quizzing a sailor on the new catapults.

“So when you do the new carriers, as we do and as we’re thinking about doing, would you go with steam, or would you go with electromagnetic?” Trump asked. “Because steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic, I mean, unfortunately you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly. What would you do?”


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Trump uses Thanksgiving call to Navy officer to voice a weird grudge about aircraft carriers

“Yes sir, you sort of have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plant that we have here as well, but we’re doing that very well,” the sailor replied. “Mr. President, I would go electromagnetic.”

On Tuesday, Trump relayed his conversations with those involved in the catapult development and said they preferred steam.


June 2018: “It’s frankly ridiculous.”

United States Navy

During a meeting on hurricane preparedness with the Federal Emergency Management Agency last summer, the president unexpectedly brought up – among several other unrelated topics – his concerns about the EMALS on the Ford.

He criticised the military for buying new and unnecessary technology.


Read more:
Trump revisited his disdain for the Navy’s ‘ridiculous’ new aircraft-launching system during an unrelated meeting about hurricane response

“They want to have all new. Instead of having the system that throws the aircraft off the [ship], which was always steam,” Trump said during the 40-minute meeting, according to The Washington Post. “They now have magnets. They’re using magnets instead of steam.”

He added: “They spent hundreds of millions of dollars. I’m hearing not great things about it. It’s frankly ridiculous.”


September 2017: “You have to be a computer genius.”

U.S. Navy/Huntington Ingalls Industries/Chris Oxley

At a Republican fundraiser dinner, Trump criticised the new aircraft-launch system on the Ford-class carriers, comparing the high-end system to car-seat controls.


Read more:
‘You have to be a computer genius’: Trump likened the Navy’s new catapult technology to learning the seat controls in a new car

“It’s like when you get a new car and you have to be a computer genius to fix your seat, right?” he said, according to The Post. “The seat’s moving all over the place. It’s unbelievable.”


May 2017: “Goddamned steam.”

US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Elizabeth A. ThompsonAn F/A-18F Super Hornet performs an arrested landing aboard the Ford on July 28, 2017.

Trump first made his thoughts on EMALS crystal clear in an interview with Time magazine shortly after taking office.

“You know the catapult is quite important,” Trump said, adding that he was told the Navy was going with a “digital catapult system” to “keep up with modern” technology.

He said he had heard that the new system was not performing as well as the steam system.


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“It sounded bad to me,” the president said. “Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated. You have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”

He said that when he was told that the future carriers would feature the EMALS, he replied: “No, you’re not. You going to goddamned steam. The digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money, and it’s no good.”

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