NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — U.S. Navy cyber leaders want cloud capabilities that can withstand jarring jumps online and offline without losing information in the process, as seamless connectivity and access to applications are sought in even the most remote environments.

A significant difference exists between the services available to personnel on land and on sea, with the latter constrained by intermittent connectivity, constant movement and crowded vessel footprints.

What’s needed, according to Rear Adm. Stephen Donald, deputy commander of the 10th Fleet, is an extension of enterprise systems to “our maritime assets afloat, for all our weapons platforms out there.”

“When we go to the afloat side, I love the cloud, right, but I don’t have access to the cloud all the time,” he said April 4 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland. The 10th Fleet is directly involved with Navy cyber operations.

“I need industry to figure out how to give me a ‘virtual cloud,’ if you will, while afloat, so that while I’m disconnected, I still have all the capabilities I can possibly have locally,” he said. “And then, when I reconnect, it is seamless.”

Navy vessels dot waters the world over, separated by vast distances and fickle weather conditions, and are expected to play a critical role should the U.S. come to blows with China in the Indo-Pacific or Russia in Europe.

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Stephen Donald, deputy commander of the 10th Fleet, speaks at a maritime cybersecurity panel at the Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in April 2023.

A fight with either world power would put the ships in the line of fire — hacking and jamming, or something more deadly — making connectivity and continuity all the more difficult to maintain.

The ability to rebound, as a result, is key, according to Rear Adm. Tracy Hines, the cybersecurity division director at the office of the chief of naval operations.

“We just need to have more robustness and more resiliency in that area, and I know there’s a lot of people that are working on that,” she said Tuesday at the conference. “I think the big challenge is when you’re in that denied, degraded, intermittent environment, how do you overcome that, so when you do come back online you can still have what you need and keep moving.”

The Navy in December 2022 awarded Amazon a five-year, $724 million contract for access to the company’s commercial cloud, related professional services and training options.

Amazon is also one of four companies picked for the Pentagon’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, a competitive deal worth up to $9 billion. The JWCC arrangement was engineered to complement service-led cloud efforts, not commandeer them, defense officials say.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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