Trump Rejects Digital Catapults for Aircraft Carriers, Demands Return to ‘Goddamn Steam’

Says Digital 'Sounded Bad to Me'

In the course of his interview with Time Magazine, President Trump revealed an exchange during a recent tour of the USS Gerald R. Ford, an aircraft carrier, during which he discovered that newer US aircraft carriers like the Ford use digital catapult systems for launching aircrafts.

Trump was apparently livid with the discovery, saying that digital “sounded bad to me” and demanding that the aircraft carriers go back to using “goddamn steam” for their launches, claiming it would save hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s no evidence to support the money-saving suggestion, and the switch to the digital EMALS launchers was seen by the Navy as a necessary one. Steam-based launchers, which use the steam produced by the carrier’s nuclear power plant, are described as high-maintenance system with no feedback control, and that’s just the start of their problems.

The big knocks on the steam system are that the shock-based launch system does damage to air-frames, shortening how long the planes last by quite a bit. On top of that, the fancy new US warplanes are too big and too heavy for the steam launchers to even get them in the air.

The EMALS system launches the aircraft from a track using a series of motors, which President Trump was reportedly angry about because it seemed like “you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out,” but which doesn’t stress the aircraft and apparently work for bigger planes.

Trump has previously promised to build more carriers, and now insists they’ll all use steam instead of the EMALS system, despite Naval recommendations to the contrary. Ironically, President Trump has been eager to give the generals growing unilateral authority across military operations, though it appears this is a rare exception.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.

  • Caesar_Saladin

    I’m pretty sure the President has a strong background in aircraft carrier catapult design and saw right away there was a problem with the newer systems.

    In other news, President Trump has ordered the Navy to return to propeller-driven fighters and attack aircraft because ‘those jets are just too damned complicated’.

    • Adriaan de Leeuw

      just think if they go back to biplanes they can take of without steam even!

    • PxThucydides

      Why do we not have more Zeppelins? No country can be considered great without Zeppelins.

  • Tom Mauel

    The level of ignorance displayed by Trump is hard to comprehend. And Hillary Clinton and her side kick Podesta have convinced corporate media to waste political capital chasing after the mirage of Russians influencing elections already compromised by corporate cash..

  • Vooch

    on a technical note – these aren’t ‘digital’ exactly. These are linear induction motors with digital controls.

    What the heck is a linear induction motor ? It’s the same type of electric motor that powers modern rollercoaster that ‘shoot’ you up a steep slope

    • lemur

      This. “Digital” means no sense in this context. We don’t do symbolic processing. We ram a rod down the line using electromagnetic forces.

  • Mike Ehling

    There’s just no way on earth we should go back to steam. It’s too polluting. If sails and wind power were good enough for Horatio Nelson, they should be good enough for the U.S. Navy.

  • This man knows _nothing_.

  • Kyle MacDonnell

    Hard to believe

    • curmudgeonvt

      No, it’s not.

  • Adriaan de Leeuw

    Yes the narcissist knows all!

  • Carlton Meyer

    EMALS doesn’t work reliably! One out of every 400 launches fail, which would throw aircraft into the ocean due to a lack of power. Our Admirals knew this years ago but are so corrupt they installed it on the Ford anyway! The Navy has commissioned the ship and it will remain in the “pre-deployment” phase for years since it can’t safely launch aircraft. They might be able to fix it, but they’ve been trying to solve the problem for years and don’t understand they problem.

    It seems Trump was briefed in this disaster and took prompt action so the Admirals would not have to face the music. Here is some background.

    http://www.news.com.au/technology/innovation/inventions/icebergs-ahead-for-expensive-us-uk-aircraft-carrier-projects/news-story/00823208dcb0c9f3b6c8c735e0ef42a2

    So after spending $17 billion on the Ford, they will have to spend another $6 billion to rip it open and install steam. And the second in the class is already half complete, so will require billions to redo it!

    • Luchorpan

      Thank you. This makes sense.

    • Carlton Meyer

      I updated my blog with the inside story. It has lots of links to more info, but here is the text.

      May 13, 2017 – Trump Exposes Our Navy’s Biggest Scandal

      The US Navy’s new carrier electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) doesn’t work reliably. This has been publicly documented by the GAO and DoD for years. It has improved, yet one out of every
      240 launches fail, which would roll an aircraft into the ocean due to a lack of speed needed to take-off. This means each deployed Ford class carrier would lose an $80 million aircraft each month! The old steam system fails to launch only once a decade, resulting in a cold cat launch, video here. Crewmen die since aircraft like the C-2 and E-2 have no ejection seats, although ejecting into the sea in front of a huge aircraft carrier is often fatal. In addition, these buggy EMALS systems are new and were tested at clean test facilities ashore, not worn down by thousands of launches at sea amidst saltwater spray.

      Here is a link to more EMALS background for those stunned by this revelation. Admirals knew of this problem years ago but installed it on the new USS Ford carrier anyway! Navy Captain Stephen Tedford, program manager for the Navy’s Aircraft Launch, Recovery and Equipment Office, dismissed a 2014 GAO report that raised concerns over data showing EMALS failed every 20 launches ashore. Tedford offered a rambling excuse that reliability is not a requirement and cannot be proven anyway:

      “Reliability comes from a significant number of cycles on any system, it is statistics-based,” Tedford said. “So you have to have hundreds of thousands of cycles in order to achieve system reliability. And the way that reliability growth is established is, it’s not just from the system installed at Lakehurst, it’s in combination with the ship and the second ship of class, and the third ship of class over time. So it was never in our program, as a requirement or anything else, in order to meet threshold reliability for either system when the ship delivered, simply because it is not possible to get there statistically.”

      The Navy will soon commission the Ford and it will remain in a pre-deployment phase for years as engineers tinker with this experimental launch system. They might fix it, but they’ve been trying to solve problems since development began in 1995. They didn’t even begin launch tests with aircraft ashore until construction of the Ford commenced. When they test aircraft ashore at Lakehurst and a “soft launch” occurs, the aircraft just rolls down the runway, and not off the bow of a carrier at sea. This is why they have yet to launch an aircraft from the USS Ford, even when it recently conducted sea trials prior to commissioning.

      The failure of the Ford program has been followed by Navy Matters blog, where insiders made comments warning that EMALS does not work. The Ford was supposed to be commissioned in 2016, but that was delayed a year, and for unexplained reasons Admirals state the Ford will not be ready to deploy until 2021! If one reads news stories and GAO and DoD reports about EMALS this past decade, there is no doubt that EMALS is not ready, may never work reliably. The Navy spent billions of dollars on this program that is a key sales feature for the “new” ultra-expensive Ford class carriers. This scandal was ignored by the Obama administration until Congress
      expressed alarm in 2016. The Navy agreed to conduct a high-level 60-day review at the end of last year. Admirals concluded that it would cost too much (in dollars and respect) to admit to the EMALS mistake, and chose to announce all is well and hope for success.

      President Trump was briefed on this disaster and took prompt action with an awkward and confusing announcement during a Time magazine interview on May 10th. Most news outlets mocked
      Trump’s knowledge of our Navy and aircraft carrier launch systems, as he referred to EMALS as “digital”, and even military reporters and
      bloggers were confused. Most cannot grasp how dysfunctional our Navy’s procurement system has become, especially when defense contractors help fund their job.

      Trump is not optimistic after years of EMALS failures, so after spending $14 billion on the Ford and formally accepting the ship as complete, the Navy will have to spend another $4 billion to rip it open and install a proven steam launch system. The second ship in the Ford class is half complete, so will also require billions to redo! Admirals hoped EMALS would be soon fixed, but Trump decided not risk billions dollars more on this experimental system that may never work. President Trump deserves praise for this overdue announcement, something Admirals should have done years ago.

  • JimF

    The man is brilliant, let’s defer to him in all matters.

  • Luchorpan

    It’s good he’s wanting to cut costs. The military is bloated.

    Were an EMP to hit, I imagine most of the planes wouldn’t work anyway; but perhaps a case could be made that steam is EMP resistant.

    People are too ready to trash the guy. He wants to cut spending. He knows the military is wasteful. I give him praise for trying. I like this Trump. I dislike the Trump that attacked Assad and set up THAAD, unless the latter was an attempt to help Moon win the presidency.

    Hopefully he’ll stay focused on cutting military spending. Do we really need 800 bases, for example? You never know when something good will result. Wanting to cut spending is potentially positive.

    • John_Smith001

      He doesn’t want to cut military costs.

      • Luchorpan

        I meant “cut costs” as in “cut wasteful spending”. He just also wants to expand, modernise the military, so that we can fight… China I guess.

        Other polities appear to get more for their money. It certainly appears the US wastes a great deal.

        Anyway, click the link if you will. There’s apparently something to this. I got the link from Carlton Meyer below.

  • Luchorpan

    Trump is poor at expressing himself, but he might well be intelligent at understanding things.

    It’s said that Trump’s failing is he tends to get bored, doesn’t stick with projects. So, if he is truly wrong here, he could simply have not put in much thought.

    People like McCain are incredibly stupid. But McCain plays ball. Kerry is also supposed to be remarkably stupid, but again: Kerry plays ball.

    The reason it’s so popular to attack Trump is in part that he potentially, or at least symbolically, threatens the powers-that-be.

    • Mork

      No, I doubt very much that Trump even attempts to understand things that don’t benefit (or involve) him directly. He doesn’t have trouble expressing nuanced or complicated ideas, he just blurts out whatever happens to be drifting through his brain at the time. George W Bush shares the same trait – intellectual incuriosity. Natural un-scientists. Regarding his steam catapults comment – do you think he merely failed to express clearly enough that his people had done analysis on steam vs digital and found steam to be more reliable? Or that when presented with the digital catapults on the new carrier, thought, “that sounds too complex to me, [who has no background in engineering or mechanical design,]” and puts that stray thought out into the world as a strongly held belief, because strong men have strong convictions, I guess. (lol.) And then as we’ve heard right from Mr Spicer, when this President holds a belief, it usurps reality, he will act based on that belief.

      • Luchorpan

        I appreciate the reply.

        This was posted below: http://www.news.com.au/technology/innovation/inventions/icebergs-ahead-for-expensive-us-uk-aircraft-carrier-projects/news-story/00823208dcb0c9f3b6c8c735e0ef42a2

        Quote: “Each of the planned four catapults is supposed to use electrically-controlled and generated magnets to sling 36 tonnes of heavily laden aircraft into the air.
        Ten years later the ship’s ready. The electromagnetic catapult isn’t.
        Apparently, it misfires. Exactly how often is somewhat confused: the US Navy does not seem keen to reveal the latest figures. According to defence industry sources, it’s either once in every 10 slings — or one in every 240.”

        Date of article: “JUNE 19, 2015”

        I’m telling you, Trump is unfairly portrayed as stupid.

        You’re reciting stereotypes, the idea that “conservative” Bush and “conservative” Trump reject “science”. You likely believe Obama and Kerry both embrace “science”. That’s not reality. That’s just Team Democrat partisanship.

        Now, I don’t like some of what Trump has done, but he has made good comments. He has at times accurately pinpointed the core problems in the US. He tried explaining why the US spending deficit is a problem one time, and the media freaked. Another time he tried explaining TPP, and the media and idiot GOP candidates freaked.

        Someone else might reply that, well, many understand TPP; they just play at being stupid in front of the tv. Well, maybe so. But that Trump is a politician and capable of understanding trade is miraculous for the US. We have the dumbest politicians in the history of mankind.