12 July 2017
The Navy needs more submarines and the military could use more money to fix crumbling infrastructure.
That was the message Wednesday to members of the San Diego Military Advisory Council from Capt. Howard Warner III, a career submariner and the outgoing commander of the Navy’s sprawling base at Point Loma.
Speaking at his base’s Admiral Kidd Catering and Conference Center, Warner took the audience back in time to World War II, noting that the German navy commissioned more than 1,000 submarines to starve out Great Britain — and failed.
“And yet we have 50-odd submarines for the entire planet,” said Warner, pointing to America’s fleet of attack submarines. “So that’s something to think about when we know that numbers do matter. We recognize fiscal constraints and national security priorities and where we’re going to go as a nation.
”Certainly, sensors and weapons have extended the footprints of our attack submarines, but in the end — much like all the toys we play with — I think we probably need more.”
Warner served as executive officer aboard the attack submarine Key West, firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at enemy targets in Iraq, before taking command of the sister sub Bremerton in 2008.
Two years later, Warner’s submarine conducted a “SINKEX” by firing a torpedo into the former amphibious warship Anchorage, turning it into a reef off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Warner assumed command of Point Loma in 2014. The Navy has not announced his next assignment as his three-
year tour ends next month, but he’s widely considered within the military as one of the brightest underwater strategists of his generation.
The Navy’s underwater arsenal includes attack submarines that hunt enemy warships, ballistic missile boomers that maintain America’s deterrence against an enemy’s first-strike nuclear attack, guided-missile submarines and an increasing fleet of submerged drones.
Fourteen nations rimming the Pacific Ocean deploy a total of 309 submarines, with 63 more under construction.
And competitors are gaining against the U.S. Navy. Cold War shipyards launched three to four new American submarines every year, but those subs are being decommissioned around the same rate now. Meanwhile, the industrial base can sustain only a pair of replacements annually.
Often overshadowed by San Diego’s large stable of surface warships, five Los Angeles-class attack submarines are homeported at Point Loma and two more are slated to join them by 2021. It’s part of an ongoing pivot of America’s military power to the Pacific Ocean.
But Warner said Point Loma also is often overlooked. He pointed to the more than 70 tenant commands at his base, a facility that includes Submarine Squadron 11, the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command and Space and Naval Warfare Systems — better known as SPAWAR.
Warner’s headquarters of about 800 civilian and uniformed staffers provide services and security to more than 25 times as many workers and military personnel on the base, becoming the “strategic backbone” for submarines and warships that depend on Point Loma, he said.
“You’ll hear discussions about how our No. 1 resource is our people. But in my opinion, we can’t in good faith state that people are our No. 1 resource as we steadily erode benefits and privileges, all in an effort to literally save a penny on the dollar of a much, much larger budget,” he added.
Highlighting the string of awards won by his staffers for safety innovations, environmental stewardship and delivering superior community services, Warner said Point Loma’s staffers toiled during the past three years of whittled or flat Pentagon budgets to keep pace with operational demands by finding “a thousand ways to get to yes.”
“We have a mantra at Point Loma that we don’t reward people for doing more with less,” Warner said. “I’ve been at the Pentagon twice, and doing more with less was probably the biggest mistake that we ever did at the Department of Defense, rewarding people for doing more with less.”
The Budget Control Act of 2011 — better known as the “sequestration” deal designed to slice $2 trillion from the federal spending deficit — disproportionately hurt the armed forces. Lawmakers sought to slice about $454 billion in defense spending by 2021.
The blunt nature of the cuts has often meant leaner funds for maintaining bases.
Warner said Point Loma could use a little more help — replacing the antiquated, disorganized and costly communication lines veining the base; erecting a nerve center that gives commanders an “operating picture” of everything from vehicle counts at the facilities to the amount of electricity being used; and energy independence, with bases like Point Loma making and storing much of their own power so they don’t rely on the civilian grid.
Warner called for real solutions backed up by federal funding to fix the “eroding infrastructure of our military bases,” instead of more studies about the problem.
“I’ve had studies of studies done on my base,” he said. “I’ve had studies done in my first year of command and they came back and studied us again. Not a surprise — same conclusions.”