SpaceX limits military use of Starlink for Ukraine

Elon Musk’s company justified the move by saying Kiev had “weaponized” its satellite internet service

SpaceX limits military use of Starlink for Ukraine

Ukrainians use their mobile phones standing near a Starlink satellite-based broadband station. ©  AFP

SpaceX has reduced the Ukrainian military’s ability to use Starlink satellite internet service to control drones in its conflict with Russia, the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell has said.

SpaceX was “really pleased to be able to provide Ukraine connectivity,” but the technology “was never intended to be weaponized,” Shotwell told the 25th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainians have leveraged [Starlink] in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement. So you know, we have to work on that [with] Starlink,” she said.

Shotwell later clarified to journalists that she was talking about Kiev’s forces relying on Starlink to control drones in surveillance and attack operations.

“There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that,” she explained, referring to Ukraine’s use of Starlink with the UAVs, as quoted by Reuters. “There are things that we can do, and have done,” Shotwell added, without identifying the exact measures that had been implemented.

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The company president said the deal that SpaceX had with the government of Vladimir Zelensky provided for the satellite service to be applied for purely humanitarian purposes, such as providing internet to hospitals, banks and families affected by the fighting.

“We know the military is using them for comms, and that’s OK. But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes,” she pointed out.

When asked if the company had anticipated that the technology might be abused by Kiev before providing it, the president said: “We didn’t think about it… But we learned pretty quickly.”

SpaceX donated $80 million worth of Starlink terminals to Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict last February, with the US and French governments later paying for more stations to be sent to the country.

Shotwell said she couldn’t say whether the unexplained outages of the satellite service in Ukraine late last year were a result of the company’s efforts to curb its use for offensive purposes.

READ MORE: Ukrainian Starlink units go dark over funding issues – media

In autumn, Musk warned that Russia had been “actively trying to kill Starlink.” SpaceX was forced to allocate a lot of resources to shield it from jamming and continue operating, but “even so, Starlink may still die,” he said.

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