Blue Brothers on Life magazine cover. Anti-war groups have targeted Blue, his brother Neal, and their Poway drone plant for protests against the Predator.
  • Blue Brothers on Life magazine cover. Anti-war groups have targeted Blue, his brother Neal, and their Poway drone plant for protests against the Predator.
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Mega-millionaire La Jollan Linden Blue, co-owner of General Atomics, has long been a loyal Republican donor, kicking in hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to support party politicos from would-be San Diego GOP mayor Carl DeMaio all the way up to United States presidential hopefuls.

Until the president jumped into the fray, there had been no popular attention devoted to the role of General Atomics.

Until the president jumped into the fray, there had been no popular attention devoted to the role of General Atomics.

Along the way he's also favored more than a few Democrats with a hand in doling out federal money, including Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and his home district San Diego congressman Scott Peters.

In 2012 election cycle, Feinstein got $54,750 from sources tied to General Atomics; Peters received a total of $18,200 during the 2016 election cycle, making him sixth among the firm's most financially-favored candidates. Republican congressman Duncan Hunter was third with $30,500.

All that campaign cash has generated formidable goodwill in Congress and elsewhere in the federal government for General Atomics, the Torrey Pines-based military contracting juggernaut that makes everything from the Predator and MQ Reaper drones to nuclear fuel and atomic power plant parts. The company has long been a target of critics, few if any from the Republican and Democratic establishments, for the products it makes and how it makes them.

Ever since the beginnings of the Obama administration, anti-war groups have targeted Blue, his brother Neal, and their Poway drone plant for weekly protests against the Predator, used by the Central Intelligence Agency in war zones across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Afghanistan.

Government audits have called out the company's bad welds at a nerve gas destruction plant in Kentucky, and faulty detection devices being made for a commercial nuclear power plant in Tennessee, among other transgressions.

Last year, federal campaign disclosure records show, General Atomics and its employees were as busy as ever distributing political largesse, with Linden Blue favoring Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who was one of Trump's opponents in last year's bitter GOP presidential primary. Blue came up with $2900 for Rubio's presidential campaign, with nothing for Trump. Linden's brother Neal gave $6000 to Rubio's senate reelection committee.

Meanwhile, General Atomics employees delivered a total of $11,684 for poll-favored Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and just $4,376 for Trump's White House bid, according to online data from non-profit Open Secrets.

Now as president, Trump is taking aim at one of the San Diego company's most controversial projects, the so-called Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System that is supposed to replace traditional cable-operated catapults on the next generation of U.S. aircraft carriers.

"You know the catapult is quite important," the president is quoted as saying in a newly released interview for Time as he described a conversation he had during a tour of the soon-to-be-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Virginia.

"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].'

"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.'

Proclaimed the president of the General Atomics-made system, "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."

Rising costs, delays, and under-performance are issues that have long haunted the Ford-class carrier project, with critics including GOP senator John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, though until the president jumped into the fray, there had been no popular attention devoted to the role of General Atomics.

In addition to the Ford's high-tech launch system, General Atomics makes another controversial hardware component of the ship, the Advanced Arresting Gear project to stop planes on landing.

"Ten years after the program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase, the Navy has not been able to prove the capability or safety of the system to the level that would permit actual testing of the system on an aircraft carrier because of hardware failures and software challenges," said a July 5 audit last year from the Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense.

"This occurred because the Navy pursued a technological solution for its Ford-class carriers that was not sufficiently mature for the planned use, resulting in hardware failures to mechanical and electrical components and software modifications to accommodate those failures."

With expenses soaring out of control, the report advised the Navy to "perform cost-benefit analyses to determine whether the Advanced Arresting Gear is an affordable solution for Navy aircraft carriers before deciding to go forward with the system on future aircraft carriers."

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dwbat May 12, 2017 @ 9:46 a.m.

Of course, it was a veteran military guy (ex-General/President Eisenhower) who warned the nation about a growing "military industrial complex."


MURPHYJUNK May 12, 2017 @ 12:32 p.m.

and its got to the point they auction off unused equipment, and then buy it back.


Visduh May 12, 2017 @ 8:32 p.m.

Maybe Trump has it right. Some sort of electromagnetic launch device can look great on paper but not work in practice. If it isn't ready now, when will it be ready? Sticking with a proven method, steam, may be far superior in the short run. And maybe in the intermediate term. And, who knows, the long run.

I don't have a high opinion of the Blue(s) bros, and likely never will. Their output hasn't been all that inspiring.


rjmhrt May 13, 2017 @ 7 a.m.

EMALS has/will be installed on two US CVNs and steam technology is long gone.
India will be installing and the UK will be next.

The Reader probably nailed it as the why a US President is babbling on about an obscure naval component--GA's PACs did not contribute to Trump's campaign.


swell May 13, 2017 @ 7:38 a.m.

I assume this is similar technology to the railgun which has proved effective in some situations. It requires substantial power to a series of electromagnets as well as perfect timing to achieve maximum acceleration--easy to accomplish with a computer. The power needed to accelerate a plane from zero to whatever must be substantial, and under battle conditions planes would have to be launched in a rapid sequence requiring almost continuous power to the magnets. Perhaps that's too much power for current carrier ships to provide.

It's interesting that as our thinking about such details becomes more involved, we tend to forget that the whole purpose, the Big Picture, is about maximizing our killing ability. In an age when diplomacy has utterly failed, maximum killing is required. General Atomics profits from that, and it's even possible that their political influence encourages that.

omphaloskepsis often


alweho May 14, 2017 @ 8:38 a.m.

I'm venturing a guess here, but this type of new launch system sounds very similar to the electro-magnetic catapult type of vehicle launch systems used in two thrill/coaster rides at Six Flags (Superman) and Disney's California Adventure (Screamin'). Both systems were problematic in getting them programmed properly, and both have been extremely worked on afterwards with little progress to show. While in theme park use they are not short throw launching military jets up ride tracks, it's interesting to see how similar technology works/doesn't work in both worlds.


Visduh May 14, 2017 @ 9:51 a.m.

We should be using new technologies to make war. But that doesn't mean that there was any logic to committing to using a technology that was in the R&D phase. Steam catapults on aircraft carriers are just about as old as the carrier itself, and do work just fine.

It might also be worth noting that when we have sent out troops into combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, we had the enemy outgunned, yet were bedeviled by low-tech weapons used against us. The IED (improvised explosive device) was a homemade land mine, and used with often-devastating effect. All the supersonic fighter-bombers in the world, the best tanks, and even detection devices can be defeated by determined enemy fighters. The situation in Vietnam was similar.


dwbat May 14, 2017 @ 12:15 p.m.

Yes, punji sticks and other booby traps caused damage to foot soldiers in Vietnam. And the VC's tunnels allowed them a quick escape from our troops. We didn't know how to effectively fight that kind of warfare.


Jefferson1776 June 12, 2018 @ 11:08 a.m.

Given the concerns about an EMP attack (which supposedly would disable all manner of things that use electronics), how would using electromagnetism to launch jets from carriers play into that? Would replacing steam with electromagnetism place our Navy at greater risk of incapacitation, or would the jets be unable to fly anyway after an EMP?


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