“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said—and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said, ‘What system are you going to be—‘ ‘Sir, we’re staying with digital.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.’
This statement is like President Lincoln saying “Give me G-D wooden sailing ships, not these iron-clads!” Or Eisenhower telling the Air Force, “I want propellers on those fighters in Korea! Can the F-86! Who needs jets?”
See the image above? It’s the Russian carrier Kuznetsov. The Kuznetsov is the only carrier Russia has. It runs on fossil fuels. It doesn’t have a catapult because the Russians can’t get one to work. It appears that Trump might prefer this to the U.S. Navy’s world-leading technology because it’s not “digital.”
The U.S. Navy has used steam catapults since they started using catapults on aircraft carriers. Steam is very reliable, but it has limitations. Ask any sailor who’s served on a carrier, and you’ll hear the same thing. When the catapult fires, the whole ship knows–it’s not the catapult itself, it’s the water brake used to stop the entire system from busting through the hull and dumping itself into the water.
The Navy has been searching for decades for a new, faster, cleaner, less maintenance-intensive way to launch aircraft from carriers. The new USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) uses the EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System).
Instead of conventional steam catapults to launch jets, the supercarrier is outfitted with EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System), which is lighter and requires less space. It also needs less maintenance and manpower, and is more reliable and energy-efficient. EMALS can launch an aircraft every 45 seconds, 25% faster than its steam counterpart. Furthermore, since EMALS uses no steam, it’s a suitable candidate for launching drones and other electric vehicles.
What’s wrong that that? Nothing, except that it’s new technology, and with all new technology, there will be some glitches to work through. In 2015, the first public launch using EMALS was a failure. But you don’t sink a $13 billion carrier because one leading-edge system isn’t 100 percent. (Unless you’re Donald Trump.)
So what is Trump suggesting here? Dump EMALS? For the USS Ford, that’s impossible. The carrier is built around the system and ready to enter service. Popular Mechanics speculated.
However, it’s difficult to understand what the President of the United States is trying to say in his comments to Time. He seems to suggest that Kennedy and Enterprise should go back to steam catapults. He also seems to be saying that the USS Ford should be refitted with steam catapults. After all, if it the system doesn’t work, why send Ford to sea with it? We don’t know why someone in the Navy told Trump that the system doesn’t work—if the conversation happened at all. It’s difficult to understand why anyone in the Navy working with EMALS would go off-message with the President himself and set the Navy up for what amounts to a fool’s errand.
In other words, doing what Trump said will set the Navy back billions of dollars and about 20 years.
Trump needs to take some advice from Mark Twain in matters like this (and many other things).
“It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt”