WASHINGTON — The president of SpaceX said today that the Ukraine military’s use of the Starlink broadband system for tactical communications has moved beyond the scope of company’s intention in providing the service.
“It was never intended to be weaponized,” Gwynne Shotwell said Feb. 8 at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC. “The Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
Shotwell did not go into detail about how Ukraine has weaponized Starlink in its war with Russia, though Ukraine’s use of the satellite internet capability for battlefield connectivity and coordinating strikes has been widely reported.
“You offer a commercial product by connectivity to people, which is helpful in conflict. But you also want to be careful of how they use it,” she said. “They’re trying to fight for their country, so I understand it. . . . it’s just not what was intended.
There are more than 23,000 Starlink ground stations operating in Ukraine today, allowing the country to connect with the constellation of more than 3,200 communication satellites. In October, SpaceX owner Elon Musk indicated the company would no longer fund Ukraine’s use of Starlink. He later reversed course and is in discussion with the U.S. Department of Defense about future funding for the effort.
SpaceX announced in December it would create a new national security-focused business unit called Starshield designed to build on its launch and satellite communications offerings and introduce new capabilities like Earth observation.
Shotwell noted that while Starlink satellites could face threats on orbit — whether from U.S. adversaries or space debris — the constellation’s size offers some level of resiliency.
“I think numbers are very important,” she said.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.