- During a FEMA meeting this week, President Donald Trump revisited his stated dislike for the Navy’s new aircraft-launching system.
- The meeting was supposed to address hurricane preparedness, but Trump touched on several other topics.
- Despite Trump’s objections, the Navy has decided to stick with the new, electromagnetic launching system.
During a closed-door meeting at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters about hurricane preparedness this week, President Donald Trump discussed a range of unrelated topics, including his well-known disdain for the US Navy’s new aircraft-launching system, known as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS.
The 40-minute meeting took place after Trump spoke to the media for about 15 minutes. According to audio obtained by The Washington Post, Trump quickly moved on from the stated topic after Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan started talking.
Trump first touched on negotiating airplane prices, saying the US government was getting ripped off in the procurement process for ships and aircraft. He also said the government had saved “$1.6 billion on Air Force One,” a figure that military officials have not been able to substantiate.
He continued discussing aircraft technology to underscore his assertion that the military was too focused on buying new and, Trump said, unneeded technology.
“Part of it is, they want to have all new. Instead of having the system that throws the aircraft off the [ship], which was always steam,” Trump said, according to The Post. “They now have magnets. They’re using magnets instead of steam.”
“They spent hundreds of millions of dollars, I’m hearing not great things about it. It’s frankly ridiculous,” Trump went on.
“The room did not respond to his assessment,” The Post noted.
Trump made plain his objections to the EMALS in a May 2017 interview with Time magazine, which came two months after he visited the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first Ford-class aircraft carrier and the first carrier to be equipped with the launching system.
In the interview, Trump described his tour of the ship and dismay upon learning about the launching system:
“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.’
“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.'”
“It’s like when you get a new car and you have to be a computer genius to fix your seat,” Trump reportedly said. “The seat’s moving all over the place, it’s unbelievable.”
While Trump is clearly not on board, the Navy has decided to stick with the new launch system.
In May 2017, the service budgeted nearly $600 million for the system in 2018 as part of its carrier replacement program. Sean Stackley, who was Navy’s acting secretary at the time, said he had received no directives from Trump about replacing the system.
EMALS is designed to take up less space, reduce maintenance costs, and speed up the launch of aircraft. It is one of nearly two dozen new or modified technologies included in the Ford, and the carrier has faced a number of issues during its development.
The Ford was delivered to the US Navy in June 2017 — two years later than planned — and the next carrier in the Ford class, the USS John F. Kennedy, hit the 75%-complete mark in mid-April. The Navy is currently looking at buying two more Ford-class carriers.