Maritime Risk Symposium 2024 – Great Power Competition and Gray Zone Engagement

April 17, 2024

For 15 years the Maritime Risk Symposium (MRS), an annual three-day event, has brought together government and maritime industry leaders, port representatives, international and domestic researchers and solution providers to examine current and emerging threats to maritime security. World events highlight that maritime security is increasingly at risk during the current period of great-power competition and ongoing conflicts. The active competition between nations who are not at war but also not fully at peace is called the “gray zone.” Hostile gray-zone actions of international adversaries present growing dangers to freedom of navigation, the maritime global commons, and world trade.  

In 2024, gray zone activities against the maritime industry and the Marine Transportation System became front page news with drone attacks, ship sinkings, mining of grain-shipment corridors, cutting of subsea cables, and more. Due to adversarial actions, the industry itself is now at the center of attention for the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Merchant Marine, inter-agency partners, state and local governments, and international stakeholders.  Vessels have been harassed and rammed, message traffic has been blocked, and continuing cyber attacks have all interrupted maritime trade. Panel presentations at MRS2024 bring together many government and industry experts sharing their knowledge on how to manage future risk in the maritime global commons, in littoral waters, and the seabed.

Copyright Grispb/AdobeStock
Copyright Grispb/AdobeStock

This year’s MRS is being held 11-13 June 2024, hosted by the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California as an in-person event. There is no cost for registration. A series of keynote addresses and panels led by leading national experts are focused on cooperative efforts among the services, maritime domain awareness, policy imperatives, maritime cyber, assessing risks during great change, and Arctic collaborations. As in previous years, a Coast Guard Evergreen facilitated session for strategic-concept generation is being help immediately afterward.

The MRS 2024 program aims to increase awareness and better understand the coercive aspects of maritime gray zone operations. The discussions will also look to explore ways to establish unity-of-purpose in order to build unity-of-effort for countering the disruptive actions of malign actors. This year's symposium has been organized within the broad context of the current U.S. Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, published in late 2020, and signed by the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Given excellent guidelines provided by this cooperative framework, MRS2024 contributors are examining how all of the nation’s maritime services and other critical partners can continue to support maritime security during an increasingly contested “gray zone” period.

REGISTER TODAY: Who should attend MRS2024? Maritime military members, Marine Transportation System industry representatives and members of academic institutions.
For more information and to register for the Maritime Risk Symposium 2024 CLICK HERE 

This year’s agenda has six major panels:

Panel 1 – Future of Multi-Service Maritime Strategy: How to Move Forward on Urgent Future Needs?
Flag and general officers from each maritime service will provide insights for achieving an enduring national strategy amid growing threats to U.S. maritime industry.  Can we build on solid concepts in the 2021 Tri-Service Maritime Strategy (TSMS) to get to the next level: considering an all-services focus on mutual cooperation during times of steadily rising maritime risk, military hazards, and gray-zone international conflict.

Panel 2 – Maritime Domain Awareness and Tri-Service Collaboration
Focus: Global maritime security and prosperity is accomplished through the effective understanding of the maritime domain and by improving our ability to appropriately share maritime information, including intelligence, law enforcement information and all-source data from private sectors. The panel will consider pressing issues in this space, including: How can we improve access to maritime information for all those with requisite needs/appropriate permissions among the Global Maritime Community of Interest (GMCOI)? What are some key barriers to our ability to create enterprise-level access to data and transition away from current organization-centric data architecture? What steps can we take today to break down these barriers and enhance collaboration between GMCOI members?

Panel 3 – Marine Board: Maritime Policy vis a vis the National Maritime Strategy
Focus: Since 2014 Congress has tasked the administrations to develop a national maritime strategy to ensure the nation has sufficient U.S. flagged vessels, mariners and shipbuilding capacity to meet future military sealift requirements, which is critical to our national security. To date, the efforts have not produced the directed strategy. This panel will discuss the latest attempt to develop the strategy as mandated by the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. After providing a historical review of previous efforts, panelists will provide the status of the ongoing study, aimed at providing foundational input to the strategy. This will be followed by perspectives from the administration, U.S. shipbuilding/repair industry, U.S.-flag shipping and maritime labor regarding what the strategy needs to address.

Panel 4 – Maritime Cyber and Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration
Focus: Gray zone threats in the maritime domain, characterized by subtle cyberattacks aimed at disrupting operations and gaining strategic advantage, pose a complex challenge to traditional cybersecurity approaches. These threats often fall below the threshold of conventional conflict, making attribution and response difficult. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers promising solutions to enhance the detection, analysis and mitigation of gray zone cyber threats in the maritime sector. This panel will explore the potential of AI to counter tactics like GPS spoofing, Automatic Identification System manipulation and attacks against port infrastructure. It will examine how machine learning-based systems can identify anomalies in network behavior, detect subtle patterns associated with gray zone activities and automate threat intelligence analysis. The panel will also address the challenges of applying AI in this context, including the need for specialized datasets, then explain the ability of AI decisions and ensuring the trustworthiness of AI systems in high-stakes environments.

Panel 5 – Understanding Maritime Risk amidst Gray Zone Conflict
Focus: Identification of gray zone activities and understanding of their risk and impact. It can be difficult to identify gray zone activities, since they are already in an undefined space. Consequently, understanding the total impact of gray zone activities, or more broadly, the total risk of potential activities in the gray zone, is a significant challenge. The panel will work through questions like: What types of risk do gray zone activities pose to the economy, international relationships, security and global balance of power? What types of risks do gray zone activities bring to operational activities in different regions? What are the key concerns of each of the services and industry? What are each of the services doing to address these concerns? How are the services coordinating with international partners, government agencies and non-governmental organizations to combat gray zone activities?

Panel 6 – Multi-Service and Maritime Industry Collaboration in the Arctic
Focus: As maritime activity in the Arctic region increases, how do the sea services (the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and maritime industry best collaborate to mitigate the risks of conducting operations in the harsh Arctic region? While domestic and United States Indo-Pacific Command maritime gray zone activities are receiving national press coverage, such activities also extend to the polar regions, and specifically the Arctic. This panel will explore the risk and impact of such activities.

MRS 2024 will include a Coast Guard Evergreen event that will also focus on the gray zone. The Evergreen Program is the Coast Guard’s strategic foresight initiative, tasked with looking over the horizon to inform current planning and better prepare the U.S. Coast Guard for an uncertain and unpredictable future. Using scenario-based exercises and workshops involving a diverse group of stakeholders, common strategic needs or key success factors can be identified across multiple plausible scenarios to better inform long-term strategic planning efforts.
Evergreen is a joint venture that combines strategy and foresight with the greater maritime community of seasoned industry professionals, academic centers and national labs, maritime students and government/non-governmental organization regulatory bodies. Typically, participants examine possible future scenarios and identify tomorrow's maritime infrastructure vulnerabilities and their implications to prosperity and security. The teams are a balance of diversity of experience, combining students and professionals in an interactive workshop designed to drive multi-disciplinary perspectives and strategic thinking. This will be the fifth year the Commandant’s Emerging Policy staff has run an MRS-focused Evergreen.

About the Authors
Dr. Joe DiRenzo is a co-chair of 2024 Maritime Risk Symposium and the U.S. Coast Guard’s director of research partnerships for the Research and Development Center. A frequent contributor to Maritime Reporter, he founded MRS in 2009 and has co-chaired every event since. DiRenzo is a career cutterman and has had afloat command. He currently teaches for American Military University and National University. DiRenzo is also a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Marine Corps University (Command and Staff) and the Naval War College.

Dr. Don Brutzman is a co-chair of the 2024 Maritime Risk Symposium. A computer scientist and associate professor of applied science, Brutzman works in the Modeling Virtual Environments Simulation (MOVES) Institute, Undersea Warfare Academic Group and Information Sciences Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is a retired naval submarine officer who qualified as a nuclear engineer and served in a variety of engineering and operational tours. He received the Vice Adm. Charles B. Martell - David Bushnell Award from National Defense Industrial Association Undersea Warfare Division in 2021. His research interests include underwater robotics, real-time 3D computer graphics, artificial intelligence and distributed networking for large-scale virtual environments. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

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