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.