President Donald Trump recently revealed he wants Navy aircraft carriers to go back to steam-powered catapult systems, according to a Time interview published on Thursday. And he insisted they would no longer be using “the digital.”
Aircraft carriers use what’s known as a catapult system to launch planes into the sky. They’ve long used steam power to do this, but USS Ford-class carriers will use electromagnetic power and computers, which Trump referred to as “digital” in the Time interview.
Here’s Donald in his own words:
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.”
It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital?
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.”
Trump’s main problem with the electromagnetic system appears to be that it costs a lot of money.
He’s not wrong, per se. Like many military programs involving newfangled war machines, the three Ford-class carriers being built by the Navy are wildly over budget. They’re now projected to cost $36 billion instead of $27 billion, but, as others have pointed out, that inflated number has a lot more to do with military bureaucracy than it does with developing these electromagnetic systems.
Other than that, the mishmash of words above doesn’t indicate that Trump has much grasp on what he’s talking about.
His lack of “digital” understanding immediately reminded me of his answer to a cybersecurity question put to himself and rival Hillary Clinton during the first presidential debate back in September. Asked about how to fight back against cyber attacks on the United States, Trump offered some words on Russia, China, and ISIS before word-salading his way to his youngest son, Barron.
“I have a son,” Trump said. “He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing.”
Maybe Barron can figure out how to bring down the cost of these electromagnetic catapult systems.