WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will address service members aboard an aircraft carrier in Virginia on Thursday afternoon in an event highlighting his promises earlier this week to rebuild the military and strengthen national defense.

The event, scheduled for 2 p.m., will take place in the Newport News Shipyard on the Gerald R. Ford, a next-generation carrier scheduled to be delivered to the Navy later this year. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Wednesday said the speech will be delivered to a crowd of shipbuilders and sailors involved in the carrier's planned operations. 

The venue will serve as a backdrop for Trump's repeated pledge to "rebuild" the military's naval fleet, with a goal of 350 ships in coming years. 

That will require major investment from Congress in upcoming defense budgets, along with a bipartisan agreement to do away with defense spending caps decried by both Democrats and Republicans.

But despite their unpopularity, lawmakers have been unable to reach a long-term agreement to do away with the caps, or settle on a stable funding plan for military spending.

During his address to Congress on Tuesday, Trump did not reference specifics of the naval build up or defense budget plans but did repeat his promise to fund a robust, revitalized military.

"To keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war," he said. "If they must, they have to fight and they only have to win.

"I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history."

Lawmakers have disputed whether those statements are true or realistic.

On Monday, the White House announced plans to spend $54 billion more on the military in fiscal 2018 than the current caps allow, a plan that most Democrats decried as victimizing other domestic programs and some Republicans called too modest to meet military needs.

White House officials have said rebuilding military might will take years of funding increases, largely given the lengthy procurement process for military equipment.

Trump has also repeatedly promised to do a better job negotiating defense contracts, to save taxpayer money. That makes the new aircraft carrier a potentially potent — or problematic — choice for Thursday’s speech.

The $12.9 billion ship, built at Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., has faced numerous delays and criticism over the course of its construction. Last summer, two of Ford's electricity-generating main turbines suffered mechanical problems, resulting in another delivery delay. The carrier was originally scheduled to be completed in 2014.

Along with the Navy build up, Trump has said he wants to add more than 60,000 soldiers to the Army’s active-duty ranks and 12,000 more Marines to serve in infantry and tank battalions. He also has plans to add at least another 100 combat aircraft for the Air Force.

Trump has not specified how that military build-up will be paid for, other than his public pledges to cut waste and fraud in federal programming.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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