President Donald Trump in a recent interview with Time magazine said the Navy should jettison the electromagnetic aircraft launchers on its new carriers in favor of outdated steam-powered catapults.

In the interview published Thursday, Trump recalls visiting the USS Gerald Ford – the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier and the first of an all-new class of ship – and being introduced to its electromagnetic aircraft launching system, or EMALS. In his telling to Time, Trump both disparages the technology as “no good” and appears to lack an understanding of how the system works.

“You know the catapult is quite important,” Trump said, according to published excerpts from the Time interview.

“So I said what is this? ‘Sir, this is our digital catapult system,'” Trump said, seeming to reference a conversation he had with someone who serves on the ship. “He said, ‘well, we’re going to this because we wanted to keep up with modern [technology].’ I said you don’t use steam anymore for catapult? ‘No sir.’ I said, Ah, how is it working? ‘Sir, not good. Not good. Doesn’t have the power.’ You know the steam is just brutal. You see that sucker going and steam’s going all over the place, there’s planes thrown in the air.”

The future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) arrives at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on April 14, 2017, after returning from builder's sea trials. (Photo by U.S. Navy)
The future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) arrives at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on April 14, 2017, after returning from builder’s sea trials. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

EMALS is not a digital system, though it is controlled by computers. Instead of pressurized steam powering the catapult that launched aircraft from a carrier’s deck, EMALS uses electricity pulled from shipboard power and a series of magnets embedded along a track in the ship’s deck. The electricity is used to propel the catapult along the magnetic track – and the aircraft attached to it – off the bow of the ship and into the air. Using electricity rather than high-temperature steam to propel the aircraft results in a smoother acceleration that puts less stress on the airframe.

“It sounded bad to me,” Trump said. “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.”

A spokeswoman for Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding, which builds the Navy’s aircraft carriers, referred questions regarding EMALS to the Navy because the system is government-furnished equipment. A spokesperson for the Navy’s assistant secretary for research development and acquisition was not able to furnish a statement on Thursday.

EMALS is one of two technologies designed for the new 10-ship Ford class of carriers, one of which has been completed. Two more are already in the works. General Atomics in February received a $532 million contract to build and test EMALS for the USS Enterprise, the Navy’s third Ford-class aircraft carrier (CVN-80).

The U.S. Navy’s first Ford-class aircraft carrier, the future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), completed its first set of at-sea tests April 14. During seven days of “successful” builder’s sea trials, Naval Sea Systems Command and prime contractor HII conducted no-load launch cycles with EMALS.

The other technology is the advanced arresting gear. Both are designed to reduce wear and tear on carrier aircraft, lessen operating cost and open the envelope for aerospace designers to develop new platforms for shipboard use. They are specifically designed to operate with the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35C carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and F-XX, the follow-on to the Boeing [BA] F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft.

For use with the legacy Mk 7 arrested landing gear and the Mk 13 steam-powered catapult, naval aircraft must be heavy and super-ruggedized to cope with the stresses of being launched and recovered.

EMALS was designed to safely and more gently launch aircraft – including unmanned aerial systems – that are lighter and heavier than the planes currently on the carrier deck. Introduction of the systems should give aircraft designers more flexibility in terms of the size, weight and shape of future carrier-launched airframes.