Ukraine’s concern that its military could lose access to Elon Musk’s vital Starlink Internet service deepened over the past week after 1,300 military satellite units went offline, according to two sources familiar with outages.
Small, easy-to-use satellite dishes built by Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX have been hailed as the game-changing communication source for Ukraine’s military, allowing the country to fight and stay online even when cell phone and internet networks were destroyed during the war with Russia.
But concerns have grown recently about SpaceX’s reliability after discussions about funding were revealed and outages were reported near the front lines.
CNN first reported In September, SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon stating that it had spent nearly $100 million in funding for Starlink in Ukraine and that it could no longer do so. The letter asks the Ministry of Defense to receive additional funding for the Ukrainian military, which they calculate will amount to tens of millions of dollars a month.
Days after the CNN report, Musk appeared to reverse course, claiming that SpaceX had withdrawn the request.
“What the hell”, Musk tweeted“We will continue to fund the Ukrainian government for free.”
Negotiations between SpaceX and the Department of Defense continue despite Musk’s claim that SpaceX has denied his request, according to a senior defense official.
“Negotiations are underway. Everyone in our building knows we’re going to pay them,” the senior Pentagon official told CNN, adding that the department is eager to have a written commitment “because we I’m worried he’ll change his mind.”
On Wednesday, Musk attended a ceremony for the US Space Forces, which included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Musk was also drawn to his high list and Twitter’s controversial takeover.
Neither Musk nor SpaceX responded to requests for comment. The Ukrainian government, including the Ministry of Defense, did not immediately respond.
The recent outage began on October 24 and was briefly described by one person as a “big problem” for the Ukrainian military. This person said the terminals were disconnected due to lack of funding.
The outage affected a batch of 1,300 terminals that Ukraine purchased from a British company in March and are used for combat-related operations.
SpaceX is charging Ukraine’s military $2,500 a month to keep each of the 1,300 units connected, pushing the total cost to nearly $20 million in September, the person said briefly on the matter. this. Eventually, they could no longer afford it, the person said.
Before the stations went completely dark, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense made a request in early October to their British counterparts for a monthly bill of $3.25 million. The source said the batch of terminals was also rotated out of concern that the service might be shut down to minimize the impact.
A British official said after discussions between the ministries “agreed that there are higher priority military capabilities.” Among other channels of support, the UK has sent thousands of Ukrainian troops to the UK to train before they return to the front lines.
“We support a number of terminals of direct tactical utility to the Ukrainian army in repelling the Russian invasion,” the British official told CNN. “We consider and prioritize all new requests for the impact the contribution will have in helping Ukraine defend its people against Putin’s reprehensible invasion.”
A senior Ukrainian official confirmed the outage, calling the Starlink units “very important” to Ukraine’s war against Russia.
The September letter from SpaceX The Pentagon says there are nearly 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine. At the time, with SpaceX’s own takeover, most of them were purchased in whole or in part with outside funding, including from the US, Polish and UK governments. The letter claims those sources also paid about 30% of the monthly connection bill.
The terminals, consisting of small satellite dishes, connect to SpaceX’s constellation of earth-orbiting satellites and not only keep the military and civilians online, but are used to lethal effect , proving this is important for Ukraine’s use of drones and targeted artillery.
It is not clear exactly how many stations the Ukrainian military is operating, but the 1,300 stations that have recently closed make up a significant portion. In July, the country’s Commander-in-Chief wrote directly to Musk asking for more, in a letter seen by CNN, saying about 4,000 people had been deployed by the military.
Earlier this month, Musk said that of the more than 25,000 terminals currently in Ukraine, less than 11,000 are paying for the service, which can amount to $4,500 per month.
On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on potential contracts or agreements but said negotiations were still ongoing.
“We continue to discuss Ukraine’s satellite communication needs with Ukraine and companies like SpaceX and others,” Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.
Whether a larger partnership with SpaceX will give the US government better control over the Starlink signal in Ukraine remains unanswered. Currently, SpaceX is controlling where Ukraine’s Starlink terminals can be used, and Ukrainian units near the front have reported outages as they advance and liberate Russian-administered areas. physical.
As a result, Musk’s signal control gives him significant influence on the battlefield at a time when he has been heavily criticized for arguing that Ukraine should sue for peace and give up some of its territories.