As the US Navy continues to build its new CVN-21 Gerald R. Ford Class carriers, few technologies are as important to their success as the next-generation EMALS (Electro-MAgnetic Launch System) catapult. The question is whether that technology will be ready in time, in order to avoid either costly delays to the program – or an even more costly redesign of the first ship of class.
Current steam catapult technology is very entertaining when it launches cars more than 100 feet off of a ship, or gives naval fighters the extra boost they need to achieve flight speed within a launch footprint of a few hundred feet. It’s also stressful for the aircraft involved, very maintenance intensive, and not really compatible with modern gas turbine propulsion systems. At present, however, steam is the only option for launching supersonic jet fighters from carrier decks. EMALS aims to leap beyond steam’s limitations, delivering significant efficiency savings, a more survivable system, and improved effectiveness. This free-to-view spotlight article covers the technology, the program, and its progress to date.