President Trump visited the Navy’s new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier on Thursday and told sailors that more ships would be coming in his “great rebuilding” of the military.
The new commander in chief arrived on the flight deck of the carrier aboard his helicopter, Marine One, to the cheers of sailors.
Mr. Trump then swapped a “Make America Great Again” cap for a USS Ford cap and jacket he had been given for the occasion, and toured the carrier with commanders.
“We will have the finest equipment in the world,” Mr. Trump said in the hangar bay of the USS Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Virginia. “We will give our military the tools you need to prevent war and, if required, to fight war and only do one thing: win. We’re going to start winning again.”
The administration’s draft budget plan released this week would add $54 billion to the Pentagon’s projected budget, a 10 percent increase.
The new carrier is named after the 38th president, who served in the Navy during World War II aboard a combat ship in the Pacific. His daughter, Susan, attended the event with Mr. Trump, who said the carrier was “a fitting tribute.”
The warship will support 4,500 personnel and 70 aircraft. Its landing deck covers about 4.5 acres.
“It is a monument to American might that will provide the strength necessary to ensure peace,” Mr. Trump said. “Hopefully, it’s power we don’t have to use, but if we do, they’re in big, big trouble.”
He said the carrier “provides essential capabilities to keep us safe from terrorism and take the fight to the enemy for many years in the future.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Navy is “a vital part of the president’s strategy to defeat terrorism, with aircraft carriers especially important in areas where we don’t have a base from which to launch missions, project power and protect American interests.”
Mr. Trump, brushing aside another political furor in his administration, used the trip to build momentum for the military plans that he outlined in his first address to Congress on Tuesday night. As he left Washington, however, Democrats were calling for the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions for allegedly misleading lawmakers on whether he had any discussions with Russian officials prior to the presidential election in November.
Mr. Sessions announced he will recuse himself from any Justice Department investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election, as some Republican lawmakers were urging.
The president told reporters in a brief aside that he had total confidence in Mr. Sessions.
The president viewed a section of the carrier with the “advanced arresting gear,” which capture and stop the speeding planes after they land on the deck of the carrier.
“How often do you miss?” Mr. Trump asked at one point.
An officer replied, “Very rarely.” He said the landing success rate is 96 percent, while planes that miss will circle around for another attempt.
“That’s fantastic,” Mr. Trump replied.
After his tour, Mr. Trump was lowered to the hangar bay on a giant hydraulic elevator that carries fighter jets between decks.
Mr. Trump called the ship “4.5 acres of combat power and sovereign U.S. territory, the likes of which there is nothing to compete.”
“It is a monument to American might that will provide the strength necessary to ensure peace,” he said. “This is American craftsmanship at its biggest, at its best, at its finest.”
In his speech to several thousand sailors and shipyard workers, the president said the Navy is “the smallest it’s been since World War I.”
“Don’t worry; it will soon be the largest it’s been,” he said, adding that he will push for “the 12-carrier Navy we need.” Shipyard workers from Huntington Ingalls Industries roared their approval.
In 1916, just before the U.S. entered World War I, the Navy had 245 active ships. It now has 272 active ships, although the capabilities of modern warships far exceed those of the World War I era. For example, 14 of the Navy’s 68 submarines are equipped with nuclear warheads.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump expressed support for a 350-ship Navy. The current Navy plan is to increase the number of ships to 308 after 2020.
The number of U.S. Navy ships peaked at 6,768 during World War II.
The 100,000-ton PCU Gerald R. Ford CVN 78 cost about $12.9 billion and is expected to be commissioned later this year after cost overruns and delays. The Ford is the 11th carrier in the U.S. Navy; a 12th carrier, the Ford-class John F. Kennedy, is under construction and scheduled to be commissioned in 2020.
Mr. Trump said his administration “will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future and thus control costs and get the best deal for the taxpayer.”
“The same boat for less money. The same airplanes for less money,” he told the sailors. “It means we’re going to get more of them.”
Mr. Trump also gave a more detailed explanation of his plans for military spending of $603 billion in fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1.
“Our military requires sustained, stable funding to meet the growing needs placed on our defense,” the president said. “Right now, our aging front-line strike and strike fighters, the whole aircraft, many, many aircraft, are often more likely to be down for maintenance than they are to be up in the sky.”
The said the U.S. needs more aircraft to modernize capabilities, “and greater force levels.”
“Additionally, we must vastly improve our cyber capabilities,” he said. “This great rebuilding effort will create many jobs in Virginia and all across America. And it will also spur new technology and new innovation.”
He said his budget proposal will ensure that America “boldly leads the world into the future.”
“American ships will sail the seas. American planes will soar the skies. American workers will build our fleets,” he said to applause. “Our republic will meet any challenge, defeat any danger, face any threat, and always seek true and lasting peace.”