By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) The Navy’s first-of-its-kind Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, installed on the USS Ford carriers over a period of many years, has now launched fighter jets from the ship’s deck more than 8,000 times, a milestone marking the progressive emergence of a new kind of aircraft propulsion system for carrier-jet take off to replace existing steam catapults.

The 8,000 take-off and landing has involved F/A-18 Super Hornet jets, E-2D Hawkeye aircraft, C-2 Greyhound carrier transports and EA-18G Growlers, among others. Emerging from years of scientific research and innovation, EMALs is changing the paradigm for fighter-jet take-off with a smoother kind of ship-deck propulsion system designed to enable an improved continuous launch of growing electromagnetic force and reduce wear and tear on aircraft. Perhaps most of all, the value-added with an EMALS system is that it is designed to support a much greater sortie rate. A much higher number of attack missions and an increased ability to project power can therefore be supported by EMALS.

U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet

U.S. Navy, Northrop Grumman  F/A-18

EMALS Development - General Atomics

The development of the EMALS systems goes back several decades, as General Atomics was awarded a preliminary design deal to develop the system as far back as 2000. As a breakthrough technology, the system evolved through a series of adaptations and improvements as Navy and industry developers worked to integrate a previously unprecedented technology. Component deliveries of the EMALS system were underway as long as 10 years ago.

Integration of several key components of EMALS needed to be installed early in the building process of the Navy’s USS Ford because several essential components, such as motor-generators needed to be installed in the lower portions of the ship, a Navy program manager told me several years ago during an earlier phase of EMALS development.

The integration of EMALS into the Ford was a complex, detailed and lengthy process. Metal decking had to be placed over the trough of the flight deck and cabling and linear induction motors were also installed on board the ship.

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The purpose of these linear induction motors, this Navy weapons developers said, is to generate a “sequentially activated rolling magnetic field or wave” able to thrust and propel the aircraft forward. The Navy program manager said the electromagnetic field acts on a 22-foot long aluminum plate, running in between stationary sections of 12-foot linear motors.

“Electricity runs through the two sides of the motors, creating an electromagnetic wave. The aircraft motors are kicked in at the beginning. There’s a hydraulic piston that pushes a shuttle forward. The shuttle is what connects to the aircraft launch bar,” the Navy Program Manager told The National Interest as far back as several years ago during an earlier portion of the construction of the USS Ford.

U.S. Navy EMALS

EMALS, General Atomics 

One Navy developer, years ago, explained EMALS in terms of a steady progressive smooth process, as opposed to what he described as more of a “shotgun” type thrust coming from traditional steam propulsion.

The EMALS system is engineered to be both steady and tailorable, meaning it can adjust to different aircraft weights and configurations. This is particularly useful because the amount of thrust needed to launch an aircraft depends upon a range of interwoven factors to include size, shape and weight of the aircraft, wind speed on the carrier deck and the speed of the aircraft carrier in the water, Navy engineers explained.

General Atomics is already building EMALS for its second and third Ford-class carriers, CVN 79 and CVN 80 and awaiting Navy approval to begin work on its CVN 81. EMALS development is also attracting allied participation as France has decided to use the system for its carriers, a move which could possibly inspire further international participation in the program. 

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --


Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.