DoD considers options to provide satcom to Ukraine as it continues talks with SpaceX

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Deputy Press Secretary Singh: ‘We continue to talk to SpaceX and other companies about satcom capabilities’

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said on Friday it was considering providing satellite communications services to Ukrainian military forces following Elon Musk’s warning that SpaceX would suspend Starlink internet services in Ukraine unless the US government stopped it. agree to pay the bill.

Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh during a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 14 said the Department of Defense “has been in communication with SpaceX regarding Starlink” but declined to comment on the substance of the discussions.

Singh said the DoD “recognizes the benefits of any satellite communications capability and allows Ukrainians to use it not just on the battlefield, but in the country itself. And we understand the fragility of those communications.

The Pentagon is “working with our partners and allies and trying to find what’s best,” she said. Singh declined to confirm whether the Pentagon would specifically pay for Starlink, and insisted he look into other options.

“There are certainly other satcom capabilities that exist. I’m not going to show our hand right now on exactly what that is, or who we’re talking to. But we know there are others” “It’s not just SpaceX, there are other entities that we can definitely partner with when it comes to getting Ukraine what they need right now,” Singh said. battle.”

“We continue to talk to SpaceX and other companies about satcom capabilities,” Singh said. “But I don’t want to go into more details.”

Singh declined to confirm a CNN report that Musk sent a letter to the DoD saying SpaceX can no longer continue to fund the Starlink service, saying it will cost $120 million for the rest of the year and up to $400 million for the next 12 months .

“In addition to terminals, we must create, launch, maintain and replenish satellites and ground stations and pay telecommunications operators for access to the Internet through gateways”, Musk tweeted on October 14. “We also had to defend against cyberattacks and jamming, which are becoming more and more difficult. Burn is approaching ~$20 million per month.

SpaceX’s appeal for government funding puts the Pentagon in a dilemma because even though the Pentagon is sending billions of dollars worth of weapons, equipment and assistance to Ukraine, it appears the DoD never asked SpaceX to provide Starlink terminals and internet service to Ukrainian forces.

As a senior U.S. defense official told the Washington PostSpaceX “sticks the DoD with the bill for a system no one asked for but many now depend on.”

According to Twitter posts in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Musk single-handedly sent satellite terminals into response to a request from Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation. Musk said on February 26 – two days after Russia launched the invasion – that Starlink service had been activated in the country, and two days later a first shipment of at least several dozen Starlink terminals arrived in Ukraine.

Musk tweeted in March that SpaceX had made software changes to reduce the device’s power consumption, allowing it to be powered by a cigarette lighter in a car and to allow roaming on moving vehicles.

Fedorov said Starlink has become a key part of the country’s critical infrastructure.

Singh said the DoD is “trying to do what we can…to ensure that these communications stay for Ukrainian forces…We are working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. We know there is this demand and satcom capability is needed.

A senior executive from Viasat, a communications satellite operator that provides satellite communications service in Ukraine, said the company was ready to step in to help meet demand.

“We have provided broadband for humanitarian and rescue operations throughout the crisis, and we stand ready to provide expanded services to Ukraine, the United States and our allies,” wrote Craig Miller, President of Viasat Government Systems on October 14 in a statement. LinkedIn Publish.

The power of a private company

Amid wrangling over who should pay Starlink in Ukraine, questions are also being raised about the power of a private company in driving national politics.

The topic was discussed during a panel discussion on Oct. 13 at the MilSat Symposium in Mountain View, California.

Preston Dunlap, CEO of Arkenstone Venture and former US Air Force official, pointed to the new reality that a CEO now has the power to shut down the internet in a critical part of the world. Preston was referring to reports that Musk personally refused a Ukrainian request to provide Starlink internet service in Crimea – territory occupied by Russia in 2014 but still claimed by Ukraine – because he believed it would lead to a nuclear conflict. Political analyst Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group said Musk “declined given the potential for escalation.”

Dean Bellamy, executive vice president of national security space at Redwire and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said SpaceX’s role in Ukraine will be a case study in a commercial enterprise “not operating not under a government contract but affecting policy and making decisions that could affect the outcome of a dispute”.

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