After repeating his criticism of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), President Trump said Tuesday he thinks he will put out an order for new carriers to use the older steam catapults.

While speaking to sailors and Marines about the USS Wasp (LHD-1) at Yokosuka Naval Base during a visit to Japan, Trump polled the crowd on ‘electric’ vs. steam catapults.

“So I think I’m going to put an order.  When we build a new aircraft carrier, we’re going to use steam.  I’m going to just put out an order: We’re going to use steam.  We don’t need — we don’t need that extra speed.,” Trump said.

President Donald Trump addresses sailors and Marines aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) in Yokosuka Naval Base on May 28, 2019. (Image: Screenshot from White House video).
President Donald Trump addresses sailors and Marines aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) in Yokosuka Naval Base on May 28, 2019. (Image: Screenshot from White House video).

“So we’re going to put out an order: We want to use steam,” he added.

Trump first raised his preference for steam-driven catapults in 2017 during an interview with Time magazine. Referring to EMALS as a digital system at the time, Trump said he was told EMALS did not have enough power and was overly complicated. He said “You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good” (Defense Daily, May 11, 2017).

However, The Navy has made no moves away from EMALS in its catapults since those initial statements and other skeptical notes from Trump.

Aboard the Wasp, Trump said “And, you know, steam has only worked for about 65 years, perfectly.  And I won’t tell you this because it’s before my time by a little bit, but they have a $900 million cost overrun on this crazy electric catapult.  I said, ‘What was wrong with steam?’”

“You know, they’re always coming up with new ideas.  They’re making planes so complex you can’t fly them. You know that.  No, it’s — I really mean it.  They want to show next, next, next.  And we all want innovation, but it’s too much,” he added.

EMALS is one of several new systems being used in the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. It uses electricity from ship’s power and a series of magnets embedded along a track in the ship’s desk. The electricity propels the catapult with the attached aircraft along the magnetic track. The system results in smoother acceleration, less noise, and less maintenance space needed.

Earlier this month an annual Government Accountability Office assessment underscored the importance of new key systems like EMALS, but noted it has an unknown reliability (Defense Daily, May 13).

In February the 2018 annual report from the DoD Director of Test and Evaluation found poor or unknown reliability of systems on CVN-78 that are critical for flight operations, including the EMALS, poses the biggest risk to the carrier’s Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) timeline (Defense Daily, Feb. 4).

An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 launches from the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) for the first time using the EMALS launcher following a first arrested landing using the AAG. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Campbell/Released.

In January Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said he told Trump the Navy should not go back to steam.

“I said, well Mr. President, really look at what we’re looking at. EMALS, we got the bugs out. But what you really have to understand is the aperture of EMALS. It can launch a very light piece of aviation gear, and right behind it we can launch the heaviest piece of gear we have. Steam can’t do that. And by the way, parts, manpower, space, it’s all to our advantage,” Spencer recounted (Defense Daily, Jan. 8).

On Tuesday Trump said “there’s never been anything like the steam catapults.”

“And I went to the Gerald Ford, which is under construction now for a long time.  They’re having a problem with their electric catapult.  And I was talking to the catapult people, and they said ‘steam.’ In the meantime, we’re spending all that money on electric, and nobody knows what it’s going to be like in bad conditions,” he added.