WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump helped commission the USS Gerald R. Ford, a $12.9 billion warship that after delays and cost overruns will officially be turned over to the Navy.
Trump, who is commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, traveled to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on Saturday to preside over a ceremony during which the USS Ford, the first member of the next generation of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, was welcomed to the fleet with the words: “Man our ship and bring her to life.”
Trump, who visited the carrier in March to promote his plans for a military buildup, told Time magazine this year that the Navy should revert to using steam catapults to launch fighter jets because some of the state-of-the-art systems and technology aboard the USS Ford “costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.”
Construction on the USS Ford started in 2009 and was to be completed by September 2015 at a cost of $10.5 billion. The Navy has attributed the delays and budget overruns to the ship’s state-of-the-art systems and technology, including electromagnetic launch systems for jets and drones that will replace steam catapults.
The warship also has a smaller island that sits farther back on the ship to make it easier and quicker to refuel, re-arm and relaunch planes, and a nuclear power plant designed to allow cruising speeds of more than 30 knots and operation for 20 years without refueling.
The vessel completed sea trials in April but still will go through a battery of tests and workups at sea before becoming operational and ready for deployment, work that is expected to cost nearly $780 million and take more than four years to complete, congressional auditors said in a report this month.
The USS Ford is named after the country’s 38th president, who rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II. After military service, Ford was elected to the House of Representatives, serving Michigan until he was tapped by President Richard M. Nixon to become vice president.
Ford became president after Nixon resigned during the Watergate scandal. His daughter, Susan Ford Bales, christened the vessel in 2013.
Docked at Naval Station Norfolk, the USS Ford eventually will house about 2,600 sailors, 600 fewer than the previous generation of aircraft carriers. The Navy says that will save more than $4 billion over the ship’s 50-year lifespan.
The air wing to support the Ford could add more personnel to the ship, which is designed to house more than 4,600 crew members.
Trump traveled to the carrier in March to promote his plans to boost spending on the military. He had pledged repeatedly during the presidential campaign to rebuild what he said was the nation’s “depleted” military. Lawmakers are working on a budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The president’s return visit Saturday was falling during what the White House has coined as “Made in America” week, during which Trump and other administration officials highlighted a wide assortment of products – ranging from trucks and helicopters to baseball bats and glass bottles for pharmaceuticals – that are manufactured in the United States.
“This is American craftsmanship at its biggest, at its best, at its finest,” Trump said aboard the carrier earlier this year. “American workers are the greatest anywhere in the world. This warship, and all who serve on it, should be a source of shared pride for our nation.”
The Ford was built at Newport News Shipbuilding, the giant Navy contractor in Virginia. Trump tweeted before departing Saturday for the ceremony that the Ford is the largest aircraft carrier in the world.
Associated Press writer Steve McMillan in Richmond, Virginia, and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, contributed to this report.