Did the US Navy Launch Pickup Trucks Into the Water?

A viral video documents a genuine test conducted by the Navy, but it may not be the best example of wasteful spending.

  • Published 13 February 2019

Claim

A video documents the U.S. Navy's wasteful practice of launching pickup trucks into the water.

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Origin

On 9 February 2019, the Facebook page “The Other 98%” posted a video that supposedly showed a truck being launched via a catapult off the deck of the USS Gerald Ford. The video was accompanied by a message suggesting that the United States could easily afford to pay for the Green New Deal proposed in Congress or Medicare for all since the Navy was wasting so much money dumping trucks into the water:

The text overlaid on the video reads: “Trucks were just launched off the USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier to test its jet catapult system. Don’t ever let anyone tell you we can’t afford Medicare for all or the Green New Deal.”

Several things are wrong with this assertion:

  1. This incident didn’t “just” happen. The video is from 2015. 
  2. The object being launched is not a commercially available truck. This is actually a weighted sled (referred to by the Navy as a dead load).
  3. These sleds can be retrieved from the bottom of the river.
  4. Economic estimates for the proposed Green New Deal or Medicare for All vary, but they can’t be compared to the cost of a few wasted pickup trucks. 

This viral clip originated with a video uploaded to the U.S. Navy’s YouTube page in 16 June 2015 and shows a test of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), a catapult system designed to launch aircraft. At the time, the Navy was using dead loads to mimic the weight of an aircraft:

Here’s a better look at the “truck” in the video:

The viral Facebook video suggests that the Navy was being wasteful, as these “trucks” were lost and left to decay in the water. But that’s not always the case. These tests were conducted in the relatively shallow waters of the James River (as opposed to the ocean) and can usually be retrieved for additional tests. A contemporary report from Engadget noted that this specific sled (which was not equipped with any electronics, an engine, or any other especially expensive materials) was recovered from the James River:

The Navy has been testing the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System or EMALS for months aboard the Gerald R. Ford carrier, but this is the first time a “dead-load” (or a weighted steel sled that weighs up to 80,000 pounds) is involved. Its advantages over traditional catapults that use steam instead of electromagnetic energy include smoother acceleration and its ability to place less stress on the aircraft — plus, it was designed to work even with more advanced carriers that the military will surely use in the future. It will take a long time before any plane goes near the system, though: the Navy has already retrieved the sled above from the depths of the James River to conduct more dead-load launches.

In July 2017, the first fixed-wing airplane was launched using EMALS:

While one could certainly argue that the U.S. government wastes money on certain projects that would be better spent on more worthwhile endeavors, this viral Facebook video isn’t the best example to support this argument. This “truck” is actually a weighted sled and wasn’t lost to the water.