President Donald Trump on Saturday presided over the commissioning of the US Navy’s newest next-generation aircraft carrier — a trip that offered a brief escape from the swirling political drama in Washington.
Trump appeared to revel in the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony aboard the ship at the sprawling Norfolk naval base in Virginia, which included a 21-gun salute, and the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes on the ship’s mast.
“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,” Trump said.
“Wherever this vessel cuts through the horizon, our allies will rest easy and our enemies will shake with fear, because everyone will know that America is coming and America is coming strong.”
The $12.9 billion USS Gerald R. Ford — named after America’s 38th president — is a hulking nuclear-powered giant that is the first of a new generation of super-ships.
It will become the country’s 11th aircraft carrier, a number mandated by the US Congress.
The colossal ship was plagued by cost overruns, and in the past, Trump criticized the budget allocated for the super-ship.
The short 45-minute flight to Norfolk allowed Trump what was sure to be a welcome respite from the political upheaval of recent days — from a shock shake-up of his communications team to the ongoing Russia scandal.
Before heading south from the US capital, Trump fired a salvo of nearly a dozen tweets, touching on the issues and people that gave him headaches this week — the special prosecutor looking into his team’s ties with Moscow, his attorney general, failed efforts to pass health care reform and the media.
And he had another go at his onetime election rival Hillary Clinton, asking why investigators were looking into his son Don Jr’s meeting with a Russian attorney, and not reopening a probe into the Democrat’s email woes.
None of that however factored into Trump’s visit to Norfolk to celebrate America’s military might.
“This ship is the deterrent that keeps us from having to fight in the first place, but this ship also assures that if a fight does come, it will always end the same way — we will win, win, win,” Trump said.
The US commander-in-chief allowed himself a few comments of a political nature, calling on Congress to back his request for a defense budget hike.
“We do not want cost overruns. We want the best equipment, but we want it built ahead of schedule and we want it built under budget,” Trump said.
Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales formally welcomed the ship to the US Navy’s fleet with the words: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”
The USS Gerald Ford will lend its name to a new class of ship, designed to replace Nimitz-class carriers as they reach the end of their 50-year service life. Another Ford-class ship, the John F. Kennedy, is under construction.
Naval officials want the fleet to have 12 supercarriers by 2031, and Trump has said he wants to expand the entire naval fleet.
No other nation’s aircraft carrier capabilities come close — Russia has only one.
Sometimes called “flat tops,” America’s supercarriers are the ultimate symbol of its military power across the world, and are used to support US operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The Ford — sometimes called a “floating city” — is 1,092 feet (333 meters) long, has a crew of about 4,460 sailors and is powered by two nuclear reactors that crank four shafts.
“The Ford class represents a true ‘leap-ahead’ ship that will be the centerpiece of US naval power for the majority of the 21st century,” the Navy said.
Because the Gerald Ford is the first in her class, she is still undergoing testing. The Navy expects the ship to be fully operational in 2020, with the first deployment anticipated for 2022.
President Ford was the successor to Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 in the fallout of the Watergate scandal.
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