Sailors getting underway from the East Coast can no longer expect the Atlantic Ocean to double as a safe haven, the three-star helming the Navy’s 2nd Fleet warned Tuesday.

With a rise in the number of increasingly deadly Russian submarines, sailors “can expect to be operating in a contested space once they leave Norfolk,” Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis said during Tuesday’s maritime security event at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Over the last 20 years, most of the time we got underway from Norfolk in order to operate somewhere else, not in the Atlantic,” Lewis said before indicating that had changed.

“We don’t have to look hard to see that the world is only getting more complicated,” he continued before declaring the Atlantic Ocean "a battle space that can’t be ignored.”

His warning came in the wake of reports that a Russian spy ship had been lurking off the East Coast and operating in an unsafe manner in recent months.

“We have seen some of our ships, the USS Mahan for example, in the early stages of their training cycle operating on station in the Atlantic with a Russian intelligence ship when it visited our coastline late last year,” Lewis said.

“Real world requirements do not discriminate. The intelligence ship did not care at what phase of training our ships were in or if it had achieved its full certification.”

Lewis’ remarks also arrived moments after the Pentagon confirmed it had deployed a new, low-yield submarine-launched nuclear warhead.

Lewis called the addition of the W76-2 warhead “a factor in how we operate” but “not one that will alter too much of what we do.”

The Navy announced that its 2nd Fleet had reached its full operational status on New Year’s Eve.

Created to keep Russia in check during the Cold War, the Navy dissolved the fleet in 2011 to better focus on counter terrorism efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan and a pivot to the Pacific Rim and China’s growth as a military power.

But as Russia reasserted itself in recent years, the Navy again resurrected the 2nd Fleet to regain dominance over Atlantic and Arctic waters.

In June, 2nd Fleet oversaw a massive multinational war game— Baltic Operations, or BALTOPS — and is gearing up for this summer’s global Large Scale Exercise 2020.

The month-long integrated predeployment certification training known as the Composite Unit Training Exercise, or COMPTUEX, also is becoming increasingly complex by incorporating live, virtual and constructive simulated scenarios, Lewis said.

The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower is training now for its upcoming cruise, he added.

“We talk about how we fight. You have to tie that to how we train, because we’re never going to be any better than how we train at our highest levels,” Lewis said.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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