Trump vows to build ’12-carrier Navy’ during visit to USS Gerald R. Ford
By: Mark D. Faram
BOARD THE USS GERALD R. FORD, Newport News, Va. — President Donald Trump told sailors and shipboard workers aboard the yet-to-be commissioned aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford that he would rebuild the U.S. Navy and give the service the all the resources it needs to fight and win — to include more aircraft carriers.
“I just spoke with Navy and industry leaders and have discussed my plan to undertake a major expansion of our entire Navy fleet, including having the 12-carrier Navy we need,” Trump said Thursday to cheers from sailors and shipyard workers in attendance.
Currently, the Navy has 10 aircraft carriers.
“After years of budget cuts that have impaired our defense, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history. And by eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future,” Trump said, referring to the budget caps that Congress has imposed on the Pentagon for the past five years.
Trump arrived on the ship on Marine 1, the shiny Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter. Trump’s helicopter was preceded on the flight deck by three MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Trump emerged from the aircraft with his signature “Make America Great Again” red cap. By the time he reached Hanger Bay 2, by riding one of the ship’s three massive aircraft elevators down from the flight deck, he was sporting a Ford ball cap and a new green nylon flight jacket.
“This carrier and the new ships of the Ford Class will expand the ability of our nation to carry out vital missions on the oceans to project American power in distant lands,” he said. “Hopefully, too, it is power we don’t have to use, but if we do, they’re in big, big trouble.”
In his speech, Trump paid homage to the importance of U.S. aircraft carriers past and present, and reminded the crowd that it was U.S. carriers — Yorktown, Ranger and Enterprise — that turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific at Midway.
“Our carriers are the centerpiece of American military might overseas,” he said. “We are standing here today on four-and-a-half acres of combat power and sovereign U.S. territory, the likes of which there is nothing… there is no competition to this ship.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson accompanied the president on the ship, along with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Trump singled out both men in his remarks.
Mattis, he said, would oversee the “great rebuilding” of the U.S. military.
To Richardson, Trump promised that “we are going to make sure that our Navy has the resources, personnel, training and equipment — the kind of equipment you need.”
“Congratulations Admiral, a lot more is coming,” Trump told Richardson.
He got cheers from the crowd when he promised to end the defense sequester and give “our military the tools to prevent war and, if needed, to fight war and only do one thing — you know what that is? Win. We are going to start winning again.”
Hundreds of sailors and yard workers waited in the hanger bay for hours to see and hear the president speak.
“This is a very joyous day for me as it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a president in person,” said Fire Controlman 3rd Class James Meisch, 22, from Kingman, Arizona, who waited standing up, reading a dog-eared paperback novel.
“I’m really thrilled and honored to have this opportunity,” he said.
Meisch and the other sailors were waiting in Ford’s Hanger Bay 2, which was decorated with signal flags across the overhead. Two small risers were set up on each side flanking the podium. The president’s backdrop was a larger riser sitting below a USS Gerald R. Ford banner. The seats were stuffed with blue camouflage-clad sailors.
A large video screen was placed along one side showing pictures of the Ford and her crew at work.
As Trump’s helicopter made it’s approach to the carrier — still docked at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipyard in Newport News, Virginia — all eyes turned to the large video display.
The screen flickered with a live feed from the flight deck and the packed hanger bay erupted in cheers. Sailors and yard workers alike used their cell phones to document the event.
When it was over, Trump and his entourage was again ferried up the elevator to the flight deck where he boarded his helicopter and left.
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The Ford is the first in a new class of super-carriers that will eventually replace the Nimitz-class carriers that dominate the fleet today.
Though construction began four years earlier, she was formally laid down on Nov. 13, 2009, and christened November 2013. Originally, she was to join the fleet in 2014, but now that’s slated to happen this year.
As happens with many lead ships in their class, the carrier has been plagued with numerous delays. Getting all the electric flight deck launch-and-recovery systems working — the first of their kind in the world — has proven to be a challenge.
Most recently, last year, Ford’s electricity-generating main turbines were found to have mechanical problems, resulting in another delivery delay.
The carrier is now slated to join the fleet this summer with a total price tag of $17.5 billion — $12.9 billion of actual construction costs and $4.6 billion in research and development.