President Trump, while visiting U.S. troops stationed in Japan on Tuesday, said that new electromagnetic systems may not work well during wartime, so he plans to return to traditional steam-powered catapults on aircraft carriers.
He took an informal poll of sailors and Marines aboard the USS Wasp as to their preference and, according to Bloomberg, their cheers were audibly louder for steam catapults, which launch aircraft off Navy ships.
The President and First Lady were touring Yokosuka naval base south of Tokyo, the biggest overseas U.S. naval installation, at the end of his four-day visit to Japan. The Wasp is an amphibious assault ship with a crew of over 1000 military service members.
“We’re spending all that money on electric and nobody knows what it’s going to be like in bad conditions,” the President said. “So I think I’m going to put an order — when we build a new aircraft carrier, we’re going to use steam.”
“Steam’s 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. They want to show — next, next, next. And we all want innovation, but it’s too much,” said Trump.
Most Americans without U.S. Navy backgrounds would scratch their heads about the whole subject and have to wonder how a steam-powered system in this day and age would be preferred over electro-magnetic. But for the President, it’s become a personal item of interest.
In November, during a Thanksgiving troop visit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, among other times over the last year, the issue has come up. For Trump, it’s not only about cost overruns on the new electric systems, but about whether electric catapults would be rendered inoperable when a hostile environment may include the use of EMP weapons (electro-magnetic pulse).
His latest comment suggests he may issue an executive order that future ships are built using the proven steam catapult systems.
As reported by Bloomberg, Sen. Tim Kaine, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said the Navy is planning to buy two new Ford-class aircraft carriers that are designed to be outfitted with the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).
Wikipedia explains how many different approaches to carrier catapults have been tried through the years:
An aircraft catapult is a device used to launch aircraft from ships, most commonly used on aircraft carriers, as a form of assisted take off. It consists of a track built into the flight deck, below which is a large piston or shuttle that is attached through the track to the nose gear of the aircraft, or in some cases a wire rope, called a catapult bridle, is attached to the aircraft and the catapult shuttle. Different means have been used to propel the catapult, such as weight and derrick, gunpowder, flywheel, air pressure, hydraulic, and steam power. The U.S. Navy is developing the use of Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems with the construction of the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers.
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