Wicker’s Unmanned Maritime Systems Legislation Heads to President’s Desk

Measure Would Spur Advanced Technology Development in Mississippi’s ‘Blue Economy’

December 18, 2018

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today praised Senate passage of his legislation, S. 2511, the “Commercial Engagement through Ocean Technology (CENOTE) Act.” The bipartisan legislation will advance the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) use of unmanned maritime systems, encourage private sector research and development, and ensure that marine data is readily available for use by academic, national security, and commercial interests.

“Unmanned maritime systems are revolutionizing the way we explore our nation’s oceans,” Wicker said. “This legislation will provide a much-needed boost to NOAA’s efforts to harness the capabilities of this technology by leveraging the Navy’s expertise. I am hopeful President Trump will sign this bill soon so that we can begin to see the benefits for our defense, environment, commerce, fisheries, and disaster planning efforts.”

Unmanned maritime systems are remotely piloted or purely autonomous vehicles that collect ocean data. The Navy has already committed significant resources towards advancing unmanned systems for our national security. NOAA will work with the Navy to bring unmanned systems data collection techniques to the civilian space.

NOAA is hopeful this improved data collection could help the National Weather Service improve real-time weather forecasting, which could help coastal states like Mississippi avoid billions of dollars in catastrophic losses from hurricanes and other violent storms.

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast “Blue Economy” also stands to benefit from increased investment in ocean technology, as it is one of the few places in the United States where extensive testing of unmanned maritime systems occurs. Institutions such as The University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University are excelling in unmanned systems research and operate on the Gulf Coast. This research and development activity will attract commercial investment to the area. 

Specifically, Wicker’s legislation will:

  • Require NOAA to establish procedures for the agency to assess and acquire unmanned systems technology;
  • Encourage NOAA to partner with the Secretary of the Navy on unmanned maritime systems technology;
  • Direct NOAA to engage in partnerships with the private and academic sectors to improve their observation capabilities, which would increase cost effectiveness and capitalize on emerging technological advances.

Wicker introduced the legislation in March with Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. The legislation passed the House last week.