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USS Gerald R. Ford ‘is absolutely ready to fight,’ Navy Secretary says

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks about a tour of USS Gerald R. Ford (David Ress/Daily Press/TNS)
March 11, 2022

Stepping off an aircraft carrier two generations younger than the one he served on, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said the state of the nation’s carrier fleet is strong.

As for the USS Gerald R. Ford, “she is absolutely ready to fight,” he said. “This wonderful crew has been eager to come out of the shipyard finally and deploy our Navy’s newest carrier.”

The Ford has just finished six months of maintenance and modernization work at Newport News Shipbuilding and is about to begin training and preparations for deployment, initially working on certifying its flight deck and the sailors working there. That will be followed by a spell of integrating its air wing, and then by operating together with the cruiser and destroyers in its strike group to refine combined operations of the entire strike group.

Del Toro said the Ford is on track to deploy in the next few months.

A 22½ year veteran of the Navy, whose service included working as the assistant engineer for the carrier USS America’s main propulsion system, Del Toro said the Navy remains committed to an 11- or 12-carrier fleet.

“Whenever there’s a crisis anywhere in the world, the first question the President asks, that I myself and the Secretary of Defense ask is ‘where is the nearest carrier?’,” he said.

He said the Norfolk-based USS Harry S. Truman’s current role in the Mediterranean, where its air wing has been conducting air policing missions over NATO’s eastern flank, shows the importance of carriers.

Del Toro shrugged off suggestions that have emerged in recent years that the Navy should replace some of its large nuclear carriers with smaller ones, saying the national already had light carriers in the form of its amphibious assault ships. Those are warships, like Norfolk-based USS Kearsarge, USS Bataan and USS Iwo Jima that can handle F-35B fighters, AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as well as a range of helicopters.

But he said the Navy needs to retire some of its aging cruisers. That would free up funds for the Navy’s planned new frigate as well as the latest version of its  Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, he said.

Asked about a court order that the Pentagon says has sidelined a Norfolk destroyed because the order bars reassignment of a Norfolk commander who has declined to be vaccinated, Del Toto said he is confident the courts will resolve the issue fairly while taking national security needs into consideration.

“We deeply care about good order and discipline in the Navy,” he said. “Fortunately, we also living in a country where we have rights.”

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