Padilla, Sullivan, Garcia, Stevens Announce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Cybersecurity and Telecommunications for Oceanographic Research Vessels

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), as well as Representatives Mike Garcia (R-Calif.-27) and Haley Stevens (D-Mich.-11), announced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to facilitate cybersecurity and telecommunications upgrades for the 17 oceanographic vessels in the U.S. Academic Research Fleet. The Accelerating Networking, Cyberinfrastructure, and Hardware for Oceanic Research (ANCHOR) Act would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to plan improvements for these critical oceanographic research vessels. The fleet includes three vessels in California, which recently discovered extensive World War II-era munitions on the sea floor at the San Pedro DDT dumpsite.

These ships and their submersibles play a central role in important priorities such as exploring our ocean, studying climate change, and improving national security. First commissioned decades ago, these ships are in desperate need of new infrastructure and maintenance, especially with naval cyberattacks from Russia and China on the rise.

“The U.S. Academic Research Fleet is a global leader in performing groundbreaking oceanographic research, which is critical for navigating rising climate threats,” said Senator Padilla. “But with increasing cyberattacks on these vessels, we urgently need to upgrade crucial cybersecurity and telecommunications infrastructure. This cost-effective, bipartisan solution will lead to better science and better conditions for our crew members while saving money by allowing vessel repairs in real time.”

“Our research vessels play a key role in ensuring American security,” said Senator Sullivan. “Both these research vessels and shore-based maritime research institutions have experienced Chinese cyberattacks. This bill is a step forward in bolstering both the integrity of the data collected by these institutions and the resiliency of the Academic Research Fleet, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks Research Vessel Sikuliaq homeported in Seward.”

“The ARF is critical to America’s national security and environmental research,” said Representative Garcia. “And I’m proud to take this bipartisan step toward better ensuring the safe, secure, and effective operation of our research vessels. These vessels are crucial to a variety of our national interests, from international competition with China to the collection of environmental research. This bill is only the first step, and I look forward to our continued bipartisan work to improve the ARF.” 

“The U.S. Academic Research Fleet (ARF) plays a critical role in advancing our understanding of what is happening not just in our oceans, but in our Great Lakes as well. The ANCHOR Act will ensure that the ARF has the required cyber and telecommunication infrastructure to carry out the fleet’s mission to protect our oceans, coastal communities, and the Great Lakes in our changing climate,” said Representative Stevens.

“U.S. scientists depend on the Academic Research Fleet to conduct research that is vital to our understanding of the oceans, which is linked to societal impacts ranging from tsunamis to fisheries ecosystems to climate change. The ANCHOR Act will result in critically-needed cyberinfrastructure throughout the fleet, which will empower all of our scientists by enabling satellite communications, shoreside and shipboard digital infrastructure, and technical support. In addition to enabling cutting-edge science, these systems will strengthen our ability to develop and retain a highly skilled workforce of scientific mariners and marine technicians, who are essential to advance our nation’s leadership in ocean enterprise and technology,” said Dr. Deborah Bronk, Chair of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System.

“Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego operates research vessels that are essential in advancing research to understand our oceans and changing climate, and training the next generation of environmental leaders through hands-on experiences at sea.  Reliable network and computing capabilities are essential for the professional operation of all modern ships, and critically important for effective scientific activities on research vessels specifically.  As globally-ranging laboratories that must operate in the most remote areas of the world, research vessels rely on cyberinfrastructure for our mission-critical activities. The ANCHOR Act will make this possible — along with the cybersecurity that is so important now — and gives us the ability to conduct our nation’s research and education missions efficiently, capably and securely,” said Bruce Appelgate, Associate Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Sharing information and collaborating on ideas are fundamental parts of scientific excellence at the University of California, although doing so from research vessels at sea is remarkably challenging. The ANCHOR Act would enable these vessels to effectively communicate with land using satellites, digital networks, software and cyberinfrastructure,” said Theresa A. Maldonado, Vice President for Research and Innovation at the University of California. “By linking researchers and students aboard ships to their teams back on land, research vessels will not only be more effective and efficient, but more inclusive, allowing those who might not have the opportunity to participate in an expedition to do so virtually. Thank you, Senator Alex Padilla and Representative Mike Garcia for your leadership, the ANCHOR Act is a critical step forward for our nation’s research enterprise.”

Specifically, the ANCHOR Act would require NSF to issue a report within one year that details a budget and plan for cybersecurity and internet upgrades across the 17 research vessels in the fleet, which are owned by NSF, the Office of Naval Research, and U.S. universities and laboratories. The report would outline costs for equipment, training, personnel, and methods to minimize spending.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography houses California’s three vessels in the fleet, including the R/V Sally Ride, named after the trailblazing scientist who was one of the first six female astronauts in NASA history. Joining the fleet in 2016, the R/V Sally Ride has already made history in honor of its namesake. In 2021, California researchers onboard conducted an extensive survey of the historic DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) chemical dumpsite off the coast of Southern California, leading to the World War II munitions discovery.

The ANCHOR Act is endorsed by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, the University of California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Oregon State University, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, University of Minnesota Duluth Large Lakes Observatory, Louisiana University Marine Consortium, University of Miami, University of Hawai’i, University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

Senator Padilla has long been a leader in supporting ocean research. Last month, Padilla and Representative Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.-24) led 22 California lawmakers in calling on the Office of Management and Budget to include robust, long-term funding for research on the harmful impacts of the dumping of DDT and its associated chemicals in the ocean waters off the coast of Southern California. Last year, Padilla and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced legislation to reduce ocean shipping emissions. Padilla also previously questioned witnesses in the Senate Budget Committee about the importance of the economic impacts to the ocean’s economy under a changing climate. In 2021, Padilla secured $7.6 million to fund ocean surveys and kelp forest restoration.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.