A senior U.S. Navy officer says that his service no longer considers the East Coast of the United States as an “uncontested” area or an automatic “safe haven” for its ships and submarines. This is a product of steadily increased Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic Ocean, including the deployment of more advanced and quieter types that can better evade detection.
U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Andrew “Woody” Lewis made these comments at a gathering the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank jointly hosted on Feb. 4, 2020. Lewis is the commander of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, which the service reactivated in 2018 specifically to address the surge in Russia’s submarine operations in the Atlantic. This fleet, headquartered at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads in Virginia, reached full operational capability in December 2019.
“Our new reality is that when our sailors toss the lines over and set sail, they can expect to be operating in a contested space once they leave Norfolk,” Lewis said. “Our ships can no longer expect to operate in a safe haven on the East Coast or merely cross the Atlantic unhindered to operate in another location.”
“We have seen an ever-increasing number of Russian submarines deployed in the Atlantic, and these submarines are more capable than ever, deploying for longer periods of time, with more lethal weapons systems,” he continued. “Our sailors have the mindset that they are no longer uncontested and to expect to operate alongside our competitors each and every underway.”
Lewis did not offer any specific details on the total number of Russian submarines the U.S. military believes are on patrol in the Atlantic at any given time compared to previous years. There has been significant debate about the exact scale of Russia’s undersea activities, especially compared to peaks in the Soviet Navy’s operations at the height of the Cold War, and whether the Kremlin has only been able to generate the additional deployments by pulling resources from the Pacific region.