Back on May 11, Time published a wide-ranging interview with President Donald Trump that touched on health care, business, foreign policy and what TV shows he watched.
But one line in particular generated lots of reactions on social media.
When asked about the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, Trump spoke about the catapult system being used for the ship. Traditionally, aircraft carriers have used steam power to essentially slingshot planes into the air. However, the new carrier was and is slated to use a new electromagnetic system, called EMALS, designed by General Atomics.
This did not sit well with Trump.
“They have digital. What is digital?” Trump said. “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.’”
At the time, the Atlantic, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, The Hill and Slate all ran articles or columns criticizing his comments and highlighting the advantages of EMALS, including less wear-and-tear on planes, reduced maintenance and the ability to launch more planes more quickly.
But on Thursday, information surfaced that showed that Trump’s criticism of EMALS had at least some legitimacy. According to Ars Technica, new technology being developed by General Atomics to catch planes as they land went through a troubled production, ending up tripling in cost from just over $300 million to $961 million.
And more directly related to Trump’s comments about catapults, EMALS is reportedly not perfect either, according to Bloomberg. At the moment, EMALS cannot generate enough power to launch certain aircraft with extra fuel tanks, “a handicap that could limit ... effectiveness in combat,” per Bloomberg.
The USS Gerald Ford has cost $12.9 billion and has raised concerns about soaring costs and delayed production, especially from Arizona Senator John McCain, who estimated in 2015 that the project was $6 billion over budget, per the Washington Post. At the time, the new ship was scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2016. That was delayed until 2017, and the ship is not scheduled to begin service for another three years.
EMALS and other technologies related to the new class of aircraft carriers being developed by the Navy have run into issues with cost and efficiency for years, according to the Navy Times and Military.com. While its proponents estimate that EMALS will save $4 billion over the course of the USS Gerald Ford’s 50-year lifetime, critics point to concerns that were raised all the way back in 2007 about the new system.
Over the course of its development, EMALS has been cited as a concern in 2007 and 2013 by the Government Accountability Office, and it has also suffered glitches in testing in 2015 and 2016, per Military.com.
Still, Navy officials say that while the EMALS system isn’t perfect, it still remains superior to the steam system Trump favors and will cost less in the long term.
“EMALS has higher reliability than (steam), nonetheless I have concerns with it,” J. Michael Gilmore, then the director of Operational Test and Evaluation at the Navy, wrote in 2016, per Military.com. According to Bloomberg, the Navy says the system will be fixed and ready to launch aircraft with extra fuel tanks by 2019.