The Story Behind the Navy Secretary's 'Fire Me' Deal with Trump

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President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard)
President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard)

President Donald Trump understands the complexity behind the Navy's newest aircraft carrier's problems with its weapons elevators, the Navy secretary said on Wednesday. The real problem, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer added, is that the shipbuilder has "no idea" what they're doing.

That's according to Spencer's account on why he famously made a deal that Trump fire him if aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford's weapons elevators weren't fixed by the end of the summer.

So far, Spencer is still in his job. But only four of the Ford's 11 weapons elevators, which carry ordnance up to the flight deck, were certified as of Wednesday.

The Navy secretary said he made the agreement to "rally the troops" at the Virginia-based shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Related: SecNav Fires Back at Critics Over Problems with Newest Supercarrier

"I didn't think [they were] really focusing on it," Spencer told reporters following a Wednesday Brookings Institution event in Washington. "So I put the bet with the president as a rally. Then in the spring of this year, HII management says, 'Oops, it's going to be 2020. We really have no idea what we're doing.'"

Officials at Huntington Ingalls Industries say they're working closely with the Navy to resolve problems on the Ford. Several new technologies were introduced at once -- a switch from the initial plan of spreading the technologies out over the first three Ford-class carriers.

Still, the company remains proud of the work its shipbuilders have accomplished, Beci Brenton, an HII spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"Some of the newer technologies have been more challenging than anticipated," she said. "This is to be expected on any first-in-class ship. We will continue to support our Navy partner in their preparations for the ship's deployment and we're confident that Ford will bring great capability to the Navy and to our Nation for decades to come."

Despite his invitation to be fired, Spencer said he continues to "serve at [Trump's] pleasure every day."

"We'll see what happens, but he understands the complexity of it," Spencer said, referring to the elevator problems. "If you speak to HII, they'll tell you this is a trail of tears. Well, you know what, we've got to get the thing off the pier and out to sea, so we've got to get it done. That's all we're trying to focus on is getting it done."

Spencer said he has talked to the president about the ongoing challenges with the elevators.

"If he's disappointed, he can let me go," the Navy secretary said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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