European and Nato Naval chiefs meeting in Cork this week to discuss maritime threats

Low-key meeting likely to be dominated by increasing concerns about Russian maritime activity

Leaders of EU and Nato navies are gathering in Cork this week for a low-key meeting that is likely to be dominated by discussion of Russian maritime threats.

The annual Chiefs of European Navies (Chen) meeting, which has been described by the Defence Forces as a “an informal, independent and non-political forum”, was last held in Ireland 22 years ago.

The 27-member group is open to any European nation which is a member of the EU or Nato and has a navy.

As well as European naval chiefs, the meeting will be attended, in an observer capacity, by senior US Navy commanders, as well as representatives from Nato’s Allied Maritime Command and the EU military staff.


Although not a secret, the meeting is taking place with no advance publicity. The Defence Forces confirmed to The Irish Times the event is taking place and said Ireland will be represented by Commodore Michael Malone, the Flag Officer commanding the Irish Naval Service.

The Naval Service has been a member of Chens for over 15 years and holds the rotating presidency for 2023.

The theme for this year’s meeting, which takes place on Wednesday and Thursday, is “naval implementation of emergent and disruptive technologies”, with many of the presentations focusing on the use of artificial intelligence and drones in maritime surveillance.

The meeting comes amid heightened concern about the activity of Russian vessels in EU waters, particularly around subsea cables and energy infrastructure.

A number of Russian government or military vessels have been observed by the Defence Forces in Irish waters in recent months, with some security experts raising concerns they may be mapping subsea communication cables.

Russian ships have also been accused of mapping wind farms and other maritime infrastructure in north European waters in advance of potential sabotage attacks.

None of the presentation titles at this week’s meeting explicitly mention the Russian maritime threat, though many are likely to address it in some way. It is also likely to dominate in the final, closed door meeting attended exclusively by the various naval chiefs, sources said.

Nato’s Allied Maritime Command, as well as the Turkish navy, are due to give a presentation on the naval use of artificial intelligence while Norwegian officers will brief the forum on “total defence in a maritime environment”.

The UK’s Royal Navy is to present on awareness in the maritime domain while the French Navy’s presentation concerns “redefining” threat assessments.

In its role as host and president, the Irish Naval Service will present on the Guard Project, a collaboration between the Defence Forces, academia and private industry to develop drone technology capable of detecting drug smuggling at sea. The project aims to make Ireland “a leader in autonomous drones”.

In theory, it will allow the Naval Service to monitor much greater expanses of water for smuggling than is currently possible with its small fleet. It will also create up to 500 jobs in Ireland.

Commodore Malone told The Irish Times the meeting is a “valued platform to ensure naval relevance in a rapidly changing future as we continue to find innovative solutions to our shared challenge of leading Navies that are always moving forward, modernising and diversifying”.

Ireland last hosting the Chens meeting in 2001 when the possible generation of a “European Multi National Maritime Force” was discussed.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times