The Navy's new $13 billion supercarriers have a high-tech feature that is apparently driving Trump crazy

USS Gerald FordThe future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is seen underway on its own power for the first time on April 8, 2017 in Newport News, Virginia.Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ridge Leoni/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

  • In a speech on Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered a wide-ranging speech that including his long-standing fixation with the Navy's new Ford-class supercarrier.
  • Trump has repeatedly and often unexpectedly criticized the carrier's new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, advocating the return of the steam launchers that were used for decades.
  • Trump insists crew members must be "Albert Einstein" to operate the new systems, which have faced their share of developmental setbacks.

President Donald Trump likes to talk about the US Navy's new, elite Ford-class aircraft carrier, which he has called a "100,000-ton message to the world," but there is one frustrating thing he just cannot get over.

During a freewheeling 80-minute speech Tuesday at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner - where Trump also warned of cancer-causing windmills - the president unexpectedly turned to an old fixation: the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, on the Navy's newest carrier.

Read more: The $13 billion supercarrier the US Navy is staking its future on is late again as big problems persist

The Navy used EMALS, instead of the steam launchers that were used for decades, and new advanced arresting gear on the new carriers for smoother, more efficient launch and recovery operations. But developmental setbacks with the new equipment have driven up costs, delayed delivery, and repeatedly drawn Trump's ire.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has been noticeably obsessed with and highly critical of this new system.


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April 2019: "We have an aircraft carrier, and you can't send planes off the damn thing."

April 2019: "We have an aircraft carrier, and you can't send planes off the damn thing."

At the NRCC dinner Tuesday, Trump lamented problems with the USS Gerald R. Ford's electromagnetic launch system.

"The great aircraft carrier, the Gerald Ford," the president said, "It's getting close. The largest ship ever built, they say. It's a massive ship."

"But they're having trouble with the catapult system. It used to be steam. They've decided to go magnetic. Never been done before. And electronic. So it's very complex."

"You have to go to MIT to figure out how this damn thing works," Trump added, saying he learned of the problems with the catapult-launch system during a visit to the Ford.

"We have an aircraft carrier you can't send planes off the damn thing. Historically, that has not proven to be a good thing for aircraft carriers," he said, "It's $900 million over budget to throw the planes off, and we could have had steam, and it would have been done, and we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars."

November 2018: "You have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly."

November 2018: "You have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly."

In a call to service members on Thanksgiving last year, Trump brought up his problem with the catapults, quizzing a sailor on the new catapults.

"So when you do the new carriers, as we do and as we're thinking about doing, would you go with steam, or would you go with electromagnetic?" Trump asked. "Because steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic, I mean, unfortunately you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly. What would you do?"

Read More: Trump uses Thanksgiving call to Navy officer to voice a weird grudge about aircraft carriers

"Yes sir, you sort of have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plant that we have here as well, but we're doing that very well," the sailor replied, "Mr. President, I would go electromagnetic."

At Tuesday's NRCC dinner, Trump relayed his conversations with those involved in the catapult development, stating that they prefer steam.

June 2018: "It's frankly ridiculous."

June 2018: "It's frankly ridiculous."

During a FEMA meeting on hurricane preparedness last summer, the president unexpectedly brought up his concerns about the EMALS on the Ford.

He criticized the military for buying new and unnecessary technology.

Read More: Trump revisited his disdain for the Navy's 'ridiculous' new aircraft-launching system during an unrelated meeting about hurricane response

"They want to have all new. Instead of having the system that throws the aircraft off the [ship], which was always steam," Trump said during the 40-minute meeting touching on a number of unrelated topics. "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," he added. "It's frankly ridiculous."

September 2017: "You have to be a computer genius."

September 2017: "You have to be a computer genius."

At a Republican fundraiser dinner in the fall of 2017, Trump randomly criticized the new aircraft launch system on the Ford-class carriers, comparing the high-end system to car seat controls.

Read More: 'You have to be a computer genius': Trump likened the Navy's new catapult technology to learning the seat controls in a new car

"It's like when you get a new car and you have to be a computer genius to fix your seat," he said. "The seat's moving all over the place, it's unbelievable."

May 2017: "Goddamned steam"

May 2017: "Goddamned steam"

Trump first made his thoughts on EMALS crystal clear in an interview with TIME magazine shortly after taking office.

"You know the catapult is quite important," Trump said, explaining that he was told the Navy was going with a "digital catapult system" to "keep up with modern technology."

He said he had heard that the new system was not performing as well as the steam system.

Read more: US Navy's carrier-based F-35C stealth fighters may not be ready for combat after all

"It sounded bad to me," the president said. "Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out."

When he was told that the future carriers would feature the EMALS, he supposedly 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."

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