NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — President Donald Trump helped commission the USS Gerald R. Ford on Saturday and declared that the most advanced aircraft carrier to join the Navy will cause America’s enemies to “shake with fear” whenever they see its form cutting across the horizon.
“I hereby place United States Ship Gerald R. Ford in commission,” Trump said after delivering a speech in which he praised the U.S. military and the American labor that went into building the 100,000 ton, $12.9 billion warship.
“May God bless and guide this warship and all who shall sail in her,” Trump said.
He was followed shortly by Susan Ford Bales, the ship’s sponsor and daughter of the 38th president, whom the ship honors.
“There is no one, absolutely no one, who would be prouder of the commissioning of this mighty ship than the president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford,” she said. “I am honored to give the command: ‘Officers and crew of the United States Gerald R. Ford, man our ship and bring her to life.’”
And with those few words, the ship was brought to life. “Anchors Aweigh” played and sailors who stood in formation in their crisp, white uniforms began filing off to their stations.
Sirens and bells sounds. Horns blared. The U.S. flag was raised to full mast.
Within minutes, the captain was informed that “the ship is manned and ready and reports for duty to the fleet.”
Trump arrived aboard the carrier’s steamy flight deck by the Marine One presidential helicopter and was greeted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other officials.
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.
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.
“I was with you four months ago and I knew that I had to be here today and I told you I’d be back to congratulate you and the crew and everybody involved in commissioning the newest, largest and most advanced aircraft carrier in the history of this world,” Trump said Saturday. “That’s a big achievement.”
The return visit Saturday fell 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 during his previous visit. “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.