The Edinburgh company announced plans for a programme that covers territory it believes may contain four billion barrels oil. It includes two exploration wells off Morroco in North Africa and two off Senegal on the west of the continent. It also includes an appraisal well off Ireland.
The wells will provide an early test for chief executive Simon Thomson's strategy of combining potentially transformational activity in such under-explored areas with lower risk work in the North Sea.
Asked if Cairn had any concerns about operating in Morocco given the unrest in Egypt, Mr Thomson said:
"In Morocco we have had great co-operation," said Mr Thomson, adding: "We are pretty comfortable."
Cairn may drill a well on a block off Greenland, on which it is working with Statoil, in the second half of 2014. The partners will decide later this year.
Asked about criticism by environmentalists, Mr Thomson said Cairn had carried out an active frontier exploration programme off Greenland according to rigorous standards without incident. It has not made a commercial find off Greenland.
"I think we have demonstrated very clearly over a two-year period our approach to safety," he said.
Mr Thomson emphasised Cairn's enthusiasm for the North Sea where it has acquired stakes in the giant Kraken and Catcher fields. The company said it is selling its stake in the Mariner find to Dyas of Holland for an initial $43m (£28m).