US President Donald Trump (L) tours the Combat Direction Center on the pre-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia on March 2, 2017
Newport News (United States) (AFP) - President Donald Trump announced from the deck of America's newest aircraft carrier Thursday that he had spoken with maritime leaders to discuss plans for a "major expansion" of the Navy.
Trump spoke against the military backdrop as he pushes for a hike in defense spending that is likely to meet with stiff opposition in Congress.
"In these troubled times, our Navy is the smallest it's been since World War I," Trump told sailors aboard the Gerald R. Ford.
Reiterating a goal of Navy officials, he said the force should maintain a fleet of 12 aircraft carriers.
Currently, the Navy comprises 10 aircraft carriers, the oldest of which dates back to 1975.
The soon-to-be-commissioned, $12.9-billion Ford will become America's 11th carrier and another ship, the John F. Kennedy, is under construction.
But with the Navy's oldest carrier due to be retired in about 2025, the Navy wants to ensure a replacement is in the pipes ahead of that date.
"I just spoke with Navy and industry leaders and discussed my plans to undertake a major expansion of our entire Navy fleet, including having the 12-carrier Navy we need," said Trump, who was wearing a blue baseball cap and a green military jacket.
Trump in January signed an executive order to begin increasing the size of the US military, promising new aircraft, naval ships and more resources for the Pentagon.
And this week he outlined a goal to hike American military spending by $54 billion, about 10 percent, swelling the defense budget to more than $600 billion.
Trump has offered few specifics but has said he envisioned a naval fleet of 350 vessels, up from the Navy's current 274 and more than its 310-vessel target.
One limit on defense spending is a legal budget cap, known as sequestration, that was implemented under president Barack Obama.
Trump on Thursday called for an end to the cap.
"By eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future and thus, to control costs and get the best deals for the taxpayer which of course is very important, right?"