President Donald Trump on Saturday presided over the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy’s most advanced carrier in 40 years, during a ceremony at the nation’s largest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.
Speaking from the ship’s massive hangar bay to a crowd of about 6,500 military and civilian attendees, Trump welcomed the carrier into the Navy’s fleet and thanked the thousands of shipbuilders and sailors who helped bring the Ford to life.
“As we put this stunning ship into the service of our nation, we must also pay tribute to the thousands of citizens, military and civilian, who helped design and build her. Their love of country has been poured into every rivet and bulkhead on this vessel. You hammered, chiseled, and sculpted this mighty hull,” he said.
Hanging above the hangar bay was a “Made in the USA” banner. The White House, as part of its efforts to stimulate the domestic economy, highlighted products made in America. On Friday, Trump ordered a review of the U.S.’s defense industrial base.
“American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none, and we’re getting bigger, and better, and stronger every day of my administration. That I can tell you,” he said.
Trump has pledged to build a 350-ship Navy, including 12 aircraft carriers. There are currently 276 ships. Ford’s commissioning brings the carrier fleet back up to 11 carriers, as required by the law, after having only 10 for the past five years.
The Ford is the newest class of aircraft carrier since the Nimitz-class was commissioned in the 1970s, and features significant upgrades.
The biggest changes include an electromagnetic launch system that runs on electricity instead of steam and is more energy-efficient, a new NASCAR pitstop-concept deck that allows for aircraft refuel, rearm and turnaround faster, more automation, and more living space for each sailor.
Trump called on Congress to end defense budget cuts under sequestration, which by law capped defense spending by $500 billion over 10 years. He also called for reform of the weapons-buying system, which has been plagued with cost-overruns and inefficiencies.
“We do not want cost overruns. We want the best equipment, but we want it built ahead of schedule and we want it build under budget. This is the very least we can do for the patriots who have volunteered to give their sweat, their blood, and, if they must, their very lives for our great nation,” he said.
Trump’s 2018 defense budget calls for an additional $20 billion more than last year, and for $54 billion the following year, to address deferred maintenance, a lack of investment in new equipment and technology, and a shortfall in military readiness worsened by cuts in the last five years.
“Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable, and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve — and you will get, believe me,” he said.
“But I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” he said, adding, “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get healthcare.”
Trump was joined at the ceremony by leaders including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, other members of Congress, Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and Ford commander Capt. Richard “Reddog” McCormack.
The Ford family was in attendance, including Susan Ford Bales, who is the ship’s sponsor, and former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who served in the Ford administration.
Colors hoisted on the USS Gerald R. Ford. pic.twitter.com/eSu5zWAXSJ
— Kristina Wong (@kristina_wong) July 22, 2017