The Navy is sticking with its high-tech aircraft launching system, despite Trump’s call to go back to ‘goddamned steam’

USS Gerald R. FordUS Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni

The Navy is moving ahead with electromagnetic launchers on its new aircraft carriers despite President Trump’s assertion that the service return to “goddamned steam” catapults, the service’s acting secretary said Wednesday.

Sean Stackley said the carrier Gerald R. Ford could be delivered to the Navy this month with the newly designed launcher, and that the ship’s design and construction are driving down costs for the next carrier in the pipeline, the John F. Kennedy, which also is designed with the new launcher. The Enterprise is slated for delivery with the launch system in the late 2020s.

The Navy has budgeted $580 million for the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, in 2018 as part of its carrier replacement program, according to a budget unveiled Tuesday.

Stackley said he had received no order from Trump to replace the systems.

“You must have seen paperwork that I haven’t seen,” he told the Washington Examiner. “The only thing I’ve seen is the [president’s] statement in the press.”

The Navy declined to comment this month after Trump criticized the “digital” launching systems as too expensive and complicated in a Time magazine interview.

“You know the catapult is quite important. So I said what is this? Sir, this is our digital catapult system. 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.’

Donald Trump military gunRichard Ellis/Getty Images

“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’re] going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.”

The development of the electromagnetic launch system has been rocky and still has kinks to be worked out, according to some analysts. But Stackley said the decision has been made from the Navy’s perspective.

Around 2010, the service reviewed its original design decision and looked at returning to steam catapults as well as the expected benefits of EMALS, Stackley said.

It determined the newly developed launch system was still the most affordable option, he said.

The EMALS is also a key component of the Ford-class carrier design because it requires a smaller crew, takes up less space and is able to launch aircraft more quickly than the traditional steam catapults.

Stackley said he is available to present the details of the Navy decision to Trump if requested.

“I look forward to the opportunity to present the traits that supported the prior decision to determine what the path is going forward,” he said

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