Musk's SpaceX Wants the Pentagon to Pay for Its Critical Satellite Services in Ukraine

SpaceX wants the Pentagon to pay for its critical satellite services in Ukraine 6 photos
Photo: @DimaZeniuk via Twitter
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SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service was seen mostly as a strange thing until the war in Ukraine proved its military value. After gaining global recognition, SpaceX is now backing out, saying it can no longer fund the service for the Ukraine military and asking the Pentagon to step in.
The Starlink satellite internet terminals have proven the most important asset of the Ukrainian Army in their struggle to repel Russian forces invading the country. Highly portable and impossible to disrupt or hack, the Starlink satellite internet service has become a vital source of communication as cellular and internet networks have been destroyed in the war. In February, Elon Musk offered the terminals and the underlying services to Ukraine as a gift and was hailed as a hero. Now he wants to get out and asks Pentagon to pick up the tab.

This didn’t start off the blue, though. Ukraine troops reported Starlink outages on the front line two weeks ago, hindering the effort to liberate territory from Russian occupation. Around the same time, Elon Musk proposed a controversial plan to end the war in Ukraine, which intriguingly sounded like it came straight out of the Russian propaganda machine.

Musk’s tweets point to his fears that helping Ukraine further risks starting a nuclear war. This mustn’t be true, not least because Musk continued his efforts toward world peace by proposing a similar plan to end the Taiwan conflict by mirroring Chinese propaganda. There’s no nuclear threat from China. Certainly, there’s a connection between these two series of tweets, and no doubt, Starlink disruptions in Ukraine were a consequence.

We don’t know what made Musk change his stance toward Ukraine, but it is an ongoing process, as shown by a CNN report. Exclusive documents obtained by the news outlet show that Musk’s company has sent a letter to the Pentagon saying it can no longer continue to fund Starlink internet services in Ukraine. The letter also requested that the Pentagon step in to pay for Ukraine’s government and military use of Starlink. SpaceX claims the associated costs will be more than $120 million by the end of the year and close to $400 million for the next 12 months.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales wrote to the Pentagon in the September letter, according to CNN.

The importance of SpaceX’s Starlink for the Ukrainian military cannot be underestimated. The outages on the frontline resulted in a catastrophic loss of communication, crippling the Ukrainian counter-offensive. Musk didn’t dispute the outage, saying only that what is happening on the battlefield is classified.

SpaceX’s request didn’t go well with the top brass at the Pentagon, and one senior defense official told CNN that the company has “the gall to look like heroes” while expecting others to pay the bill. According to SpaceX figures, about 85% of the 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine were paid for, at least partially, by countries like the U.S. and Poland. According to CNN, Poland is the largest single contributor of terminals, paying for almost 9,000 terminals. Other contributors include the UK, NGOs, and crowdfunding.

The internet services are more expensive than the terminals, though, and SpaceX claims it has paid about 70% of the service provided to Ukraine. According to the same source, SpaceX has offered the highest-level plan, at $4,500 a month, to all terminals in Ukraine. This is although most of them were signed on the cheaper $500/month service.

“You could say he’s trying to get money from the government or just trying to say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this anymore,’” one person familiar with Ukraine’s requests for Starlink said to CNN. “Feelings are running really high on the Ukrainian side.”
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About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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