US Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, the head of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, raised eyebrows this week with alarming comments made at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.
He told the think tank audience that a recent uptick of Russian submarine presence of the US East Coast means that the coastal area should no longer be considered "uncontested" nor should any longer be deemed a "safe haven" for US ships or submarines.
He noted recent increased Russian submarine activity in the Atlantic Ocean, especially Russia's utilization of more advanced and quieter types which go largely undetected.
"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," Vice Adm. Lewis said, according to The Drive. "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 at the Tuesday event. "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 specific details on how many submarines the US believes Russia has in the Atlantic or near the US East coast at any given time, information which has been debated for years. His 2nd Fleet command was established in order to patrol and monitor the Atlantic, specifically against the Russians, leaving open the likelihood that Vice Adm. Lewis would be inclined to inflate the threat.
"The U.S. Navy’s answer to the increased maritime competition with Russia is the re-establishment of its 2nd Fleet, which declared initial operational capability this week, meaning it can start commanding and controlling forces in the Atlantic Ocean," Stars & Stripes reported last year.
On this point, The Drive notes the following information in terms of recent probable numbers of Russian subs:
In October 2019, Norweigan state broadcaster NRK reported that the country's top military intelligence agency, the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS), also known as the Etterretningstjenesten or E-tjenesten, was monitoring the largest single Russian submarine exercise since the end of the Cold war, involving at least 10 submarines, eight of which were nuclear-powered types, including two nuclear-powered attack submarines from the Project 945A Kondor class, also known as the Sierra II class.
While such a large deployment as part of rare naval exercise and show of force is surely not indicative of average numbers of Russian submarine deployments in the Atlantic, it does send a clear message that they are well established in the region.
No doubt American submarines routinely patrol near Russian and Baltic area coastal waters as well.
Lately the US military has feared the guided missile submarine Severodvinsk could be somewhere near or within American coastal waters, after it was thought to be a few hundreds miles away from the coastline as of the fall of 2019.