NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The president’s traditional Thanksgiving message to the military began quite upbeat. “Melania and I want to express our profound gratitude for your extraordinary sacrifices you make,” said President Donald Trump.
But later in the call, he took aim at one of his recurring targets — the new launch system aboard the $13 billion Gerald R. Ford, built by Newport News Shipbuilding.
Instead of a steam powered catapult, the system uses electromagnetic energy to launch aircraft.
That new technology, the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), will give new carriers such as the Ford several advantages over current Nimitz class ships, but so far it’s come with “poor or unknown reliability” issues, the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force said back in January 2018. That led to a return trip to Newport News in July to work out the kinks.
On Thanksgiving, the president said steam is “tried and true” and the new system on the Ford is so complex, “You have to be Albert Einstein to work it properly.”
When the president visited Newport News Shipbuilding last year, he praised the workers. But he has been critical of the new launch system even before last week.
Newport News Shipbuilding declined to comment on the president’s holiday remarks, and referred 10 On Your Side to the Navy.
The Navy’s spec sheet on the new launch system says it’ll be more reliable and efficient, have more flexibility with different types of aircraft, cause less wear and tear on the ship, and create a cooler and quieter workplace for sailors on the flight deck.
The Ford is the first and only carrier to use it. Other new Ford-class carriers will also have the electromagnetic system, including the USS John F. Kennedy currently under construction at Newport News.
The president complained about the new launch system while talking with the commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan, Captain Pat Hannifin.
Hannifin endorsed the new technology, even though the Reagan is a Nimitz class with a steam catapult. He told the president that carrier crews can handle the new technology, and have already mastered the use of nuclear power.
The Ford is expected to be combat ready in 2022.