Musk seeks US funds for satellite network in Ukraine

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The Department of Defense received a request from SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to take over funding for his satellite network that has provided crucial battlefield communications to Ukraine’s military forces since almost the start of its war with Russia, U.S. officials said Friday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue that has not yet been made public, said the issue was discussed in meetings and senior leaders were assessing the matter. No decision has been made.

In a statement later Friday, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said, “We can confirm that the Department has received correspondence from SpaceX regarding funding for Starlink, their satellite communications product in Ukraine. We remain in communication with SpaceX on this and other matters.

During a briefing at the Pentagon, she declined to provide details of the communication or say to whom the correspondence was sent and when communications with Musk began.

Musk began sending Starlink satellite dishes to Ukraine just days after Russia invaded in February. On February 28, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted a photo of the first Starlink kits arriving in the back of a truck.

Musk’s generosity was hailed by Ukrainians and seen as a game-changer in warfare tactics – the Russians could try to cut off Ukrainian ground communications, but they couldn’t control space.

The Starlink system of more than 2,200 low-orbit satellites provided high-speed Internet access to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. On Friday morning, Musk tweeted that it was costing SpaceX $20 million a month to meet Ukraine’s communications needs.

In addition to terminals, he tweeted that the company needed to create, launch, maintain and resupply satellites and ground stations.

CNN was first to report Musk’s request.

The vital role of Starlink satellite internet in Ukraine’s defense cannot be overstated. It has, for example, helped frontline reconnaissance drone operators target artillery strikes on key Russian assets. A senior military official made it clear Friday that the United States believes the system has proven exceptionally effective on the battlefield. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide a US assessment of the Ukrainian battlefield.

In a tweet on Friday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak said Ukraine would find a solution to keep Starlink running.

“Let’s be honest. Like it or not, @elonmusk helped us survive the most critical moments of the war. Companies have the right to have their own strategies,” he tweeted. “We we expect the company to provide a stable connection until the negotiations are completed.”

In response to multiple questions during the briefing, Singh said the Pentagon was working with Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. “We know there is this demand, and the (satellite communication) capability … is needed and we want to be able to ensure that there is stable communications for the Ukrainian forces and for Ukraine. “

The world’s richest man’s demand for the Pentagon to pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars he says the system is costing follows a Twitter war between Musk and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And in tweets overnight, Musk referenced the friction, suggesting it could affect his decision to end his company’s largesse in systems funding.

In an exchange on Twitter last week, Musk argued that to achieve peace, Russia should be allowed to retain the Crimean peninsula, which it seized in 2014. He also said Ukraine should adopt a neutral status, abandoning its candidacy for NATO.

Musk also launched a Twitter poll asking whether “the will of the people” should decide whether the seized regions remain part of Ukraine or Russia.

In a sarcastic response, Zelenskyy posted his own poll on Twitter asking “which Elon Musk do you like more?”: ‘The one who supports Ukraine’ or ‘The one who supports Russia’. Musk replied to Zelenskyy that “I am still very supportive of Ukraine, but I am convinced that a massive escalation of war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world.”

Andrij Melnyk, the outgoing Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, responded to Musk’s original tweet with an obscenity.

It is unclear how much of the cost of deploying Starlink satellite uplinks in Ukraine was covered by US funding. In April, the US Agency for International Development said it had delivered 5,000 terminals. The Pentagon did not answer this question.

Musk’s pledge to spend $44 billion to buy Twitter “must factor into his decision that he can no longer afford to do it for free,” said retired Major General John Ferrari, senior researcher nonresident at the American Enterprise Institute. .

Musk’s request that the Pentagon start taking over the memo comes as the Space Force and the Pentagon have considered how commercial vendors will play a role in national security. Musk’s threat of withdrawal highlights the risk of relying too heavily on commercial capabilities, Ferrari said.

“Commercial providers always change their minds,” Ferrari said, adding that using Starlink to provide communications to Ukraine is also a reminder that the Pentagon needs to expand that service beyond SpaceX, he said. .

“The government needs many suppliers for key capabilities, of course that often means more money, but it’s an insurance policy and insurance costs money,” Ferrari said.

In March, the commander of the US Space Command Army, General James Dickinson, said having vendors providing the necessary capabilities, such as Maxar’s satellite imagery of stranded Russian convoys, has become essential, because it frees up limited military satellite resources to focus on other things.

In his tweets, Musk also raised a question that various vendors and the Pentagon are considering as space becomes a more critical part of wartime operations: If a commercial vendor assists the United States and is targeted, the United States United owe him protection?

“We also had to defend against cyberattacks and jamming, which are getting harder and harder,” Musk tweeted.

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