Ireland is stepping up co-operation with international militaries, including under the Nato banner, to counter hybrid threats and risks to critical infrastructure, internal documents show.
As part of this Irish naval personnel are currently taking part in an anti-mine warfare exercise in Greece as part of efforts to increase protection of critical undersea infrastructure.
Ireland was invited to take part in Exercise Ariadne 23 by the Greek navy which runs the annual event. Although Nato forces make up a significant proportion of participants in Ariadne, the exercise itself is not Nato run. Ireland was invited as it is a member of the Project Maritime (semi-) Autonomous Systems for Mine Countermeasures, which is aimed at enhancing a country’s abilities to protect harbours, ships and offshore installations using autonomous vehicles.
Ireland joined the project last year as part of its expansion in participation in the EU’s Permanent Structure Cooperation (Pesco).
A team of Naval Service personnel travelled to the Greek island of Crete last week along with a REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), a torpedo-shaped device, in use since 2015, which is controlled by laptop and used to search the seabed.
“Participation in this exercise is deemed extremely beneficial to the Naval Service, not least as it contributes to enhancing the Naval Service’s subsurface capability,” a Department of Defence spokesman said.
The defence of critical infrastructure has become a matter of increasing concern for EU nations, including Ireland, in the face of a newly-belligerent Russia. It was recently reported Ireland may partner with a new Nato initiative to protect undersea infrastructure.
The Naval Service’s participation in Exercise Ariadne is revealed is departmental documents released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information request. The documents also show plans for Defence Forces participation in other international exercises focusing on hybrid threats, including several which will take place under the Nato banner.
Ireland is not a member of Nato but is a member of its Partnership for Peace Programme since 1999. Asked in the US last weekend if Ireland will ever join Nato, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin said he does not see Irish military neutrality changing any time soon. “But, given the new threats in the world today, cybersecurity, issues around undersea cables, hybrid warfare...we need to look at the threats and the challenges to Ireland and the broader European Union community, and how best, in a meaningful way, we respond.”
In September the Defence Forces will host a Nato-funded “home-made explosives international workshop” which will focus on detecting and disarming improvised explosive weapons.
In 2024 the Defence Forces will take part in a Nato exercise in Indiana in the US called Thor’s Hammer aimed at countering threats from IEDs and drones.
The departmental documents show that the Defence Forces will soon take over as chair of the Partner Interoperability Advocacy Group (PIAG), a forum for strengthening co-operation between Nato members and partner nations like Ireland.
The documents note requests to Minister for Defence Mr Martin and his predecessor Simon Coveney for military personnel to attend various Nato courses, seminars and meetings. Some of these are routine, while some are new departures for the Defence Forces.
The requests include permission for the chief-of-staff Lieut General Sean Clancy to attend a Nato chiefs of defence conference and for the head of the Air Corps, Brigadier General Rory O’Connor, to attend a Nato air chiefs symposium.
There was a request for Army Ranger Wing operators to take part in a Nato “special operations grant combat medic course” run by the Nordic countries.
Permission was also sought for personnel to attend a Nato aerospace medical technical course in Ramstein military base in Germany last year and a Nato legal advisers’ symposium in Belgium.