Pentagon awards SpaceX contract with Ukraine for Starlink satellite internet

  • The Pentagon said Thursday it had agreed to purchase Starlink satellite internet terminals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX for use in Ukraine.
  • The Pentagon declined to offer further contract details, including the price, scope and timing of delivery.
  • Starlink is SpaceX’s global network of more than 4,000 satellites, providing services to more than 50 countries.

Ukrainian forces installed Starlink satellite receivers to provide connection to civilians at Independence Square after the withdrawal of the Russian army from Kherson to the east bank of the Dnieper River, Ukraine on November 13, 2022.

Metin Atkas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

WASHINGTONThe Pentagon said Thursday it has agreed to purchase Starlink satellite Internet terminals from Elon Musk’s SpaceX for use in Ukraine as Kiev continues to fight off a full-scale Russian invasion.

“We continue to work with a number of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the communications and satellite capabilities it needs. Satellite communications form a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network, and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this kind,” the Pentagon said. in a statement to CNBC.

The Pentagon declined to offer further contract details, including the price, scope and timing of delivery.

“For operational security reasons and due to the critical nature of these systems, we have no further information on specific capabilities, contracts or partners to provide at this time,” the statement added.

Bloomberg first reported on the contract on Thursday. SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The first Starlink terminals in Ukraine arrived four days after Russian troops poured over the nation’s border in what became the largest air, land and sea attack on Europe since World War II.

Ukraine’s Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who previously asked Musk about the capability on Twitter, posted that Starlink was “here” in Ukraine with a photo showing more than two dozen boxes in the back of a truck.

Musk said in October that SpaceX would not be able to continue funding the use of Starlink terminals in the country “indefinitely” from its own coffers, after a CNN report said the company had asked the Pentagon to cover up the costs.

Western officials have previously hailed Musk’s decision to equip Ukraine with Starlink Internet, citing Russia’s colossal and indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure that has left large swathes of the country without communications.

However, in October, Musk reportedly told the Pentagon that he would no longer fund Starlink terminals in Ukraine as the country prepares to fight through the harsh winter months. The billionaire later offered a reversal.

Starlink is SpaceX’s global network of more than 4,000 satellites providing services to more than 50 countries. The company has grown Starlink to more than 1.5 million customers and launches batches of additional satellites each week to expand the network’s capacity. The United States has approved a plan to expand to 7,500 satellites in orbit.

SpaceX has steadily expanded Starlink’s product offerings over the past few years, selling services to residential, commercial, RV, marine and airline customers.

Earlier this year, SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the company was “really pleased to be able to provide connectivity to Ukraine and help them in their fight for freedom,” but stressed that Starlink “doesn’t it was never intended to be used as a weapon”.

“The Ukrainians exploited it in ways that weren’t intentional and weren’t part of any deal, so we have to work on that at Starlink,” Shotwell said in February.

Shotwell added that Ukraine using Starlink as a communications system “is fine for the military,” “but our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”

He especially noted the reports of Ukraine using Starlink “on drones.” Ukrainian soldiers have described using Starlinks to connect drones and identify and destroy enemy targets, The Times of London reported in March 2022.

“I won’t go into detail; there are things we can do to limit their ability to do that…there are things we can do and have done,” Shotwell said.

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