SpaceX Moved To Block Ukraine's Military From Using Starlink Internet for Drones

SpaceX has announced steps to curb Ukraine’s use of Starlink internet service for controlling drones. The move comes after SpaceX limited Starlink service on the front lines in Ukraine last September, causing internet outages at a critical time during a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
SpaceX moved to block Ukraine’s military from using Starlink internet for drones 6 photos
Photo: @BlogUkraine via Twitter | Edited
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SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell announced that SpaceX had taken steps to prevent Ukraine’s military from using Starlink internet service for controlling drones on the battlefield. According to Reuters, Shotwell said during a Washington, D.C. conference that the Starlink service was never meant to be weaponized. Nevertheless, Ukraine’s military has used Starlink service for both communications during the war and providing internet connectivity for its unmanned aircraft.

Shotwell said using Starlink with drones was beyond the scope of the agreement SpaceX has with the Ukrainian government. SpaceX’s COO stated that the contract was intended for humanitarian rather than military purposes. These include providing broadband internet to hospitals, institutions, and families affected by Russia’s invasion.

“However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” Shotwell said. “There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that (use Starlink for drones). There are things that we can do, and have done.”

Shotwell, who is credited for the SpaceX success, declined to say what measures SpaceX had taken to prevent Starlink’s use of drones. Nevertheless, she appeared OK with using the service for communications. On the other hand, using the Starlink internet service for “offensive purposes” was never intended or agreed upon.

For now, there aren’t any reports from Ukraine saying how the decision has affected battlefield operations. The common understanding is that this would not impact communications. However, controlling drones or receiving video streams from them might become impossible over Starlink. In a way, it is similar to the restrictions the West imposed on how or when certain weapon systems are used. Without being military experts, we can only assume the new restrictions are meant to limit Starlink Internet use for long-range UAV attacks deep into Russian territory.

The new limitation reminds us of Elon Musk’s decision in September 2022, when SpaceX cut access to the Starlink service in disputed territories in Ukraine. The timing was critical, as the Ukrainian Army had just launched a counteroffensive, and the internet blackout impacted operations. Elon Musk then claimed SpaceX could no longer sustain the costs of providing Starlink dishes and services to Ukraine. In spite of everything, no official explanation was offered.

Later, the U.S. government stepped in to cover operation costs for the Ukrainian government. SpaceX also introduced a donation option for those who wished to pay for services on behalf of other entities. Nevertheless, SpaceX is overwhelmed by the number of new customers and their data needs. As the subscriber count skyrocketed, internet speeds slowed down considerably. Starlink was forced to soft-cap its data plans for residential users to 1 TB per month despite new satellite launches.
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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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