President Donald Trump wants "goddamned steam" power catapults on the Navy's new Ford-Class aircraft carriers, not a new electromagnetic power system, according to Trump's interview this week with Time magazine.
Others too have questioned the wisdom of abandoning the reliable steam-powered catapult technology, which has been used for decades to launch aircraft from the deck of the Navy's carriers.
Dan Grazier, a defense expert at the watchdog group Project On Government Oversight, back in March questioned the decision by the Navy to use the new electromagnetic launch technology instead of sticking with the steam-powered catapult system on the battle-tested Nimitz-Class carriers.
"The president is very accurate to be skeptical of this component — and there are other components that he should be skeptical of [on] the ship," Grazier told CNBC on Friday. A former Marine Corps captain, Grazier said the new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, on the Ford-Class carrier remains "an unproven system."
In March, Trump visited the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, a roughly $13 billion warship. The commander-in-chief landed on the carrier's flight deck on Marine One, took a tour and met with sailors.
The president was asked in the Time interview about the future of the Ford-Class carriers, which are replacing the Nimitz-Class warships first commissioned in the mid-1970s.
"You know the catapult is quite important," Trump said. He then recalled the visit to the carrier:
"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]."
Trump added, "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.'"
At the same time, the president said he also learned the new catapult system was "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."
The Pentagon and Navy both declined comment on the president's comments.
Sean Stackley, the acting secretary of the Navy, declined to comment on the president's remarks Thursday night when asked about them at a U.S. Naval Institute event. The secretary did, however, indicate that the Navy had not briefed the president on the Ford-Class program.