According to a US official, the US Defense Department has received a request from SpaceX and Tesla creator Elon Musk to take over funding for his satellite network, which has supplied critical battlefield communications for Ukrainian military forces during the war with Russia.
The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter that had not yet been made public, stated that the issue had been raised in meetings and that senior leaders were considering it. No choices have been made.
A Pentagon official said that the Pentagon has been “in touch with SpaceX” concerning the Starlink system, but declined to say whether a letter was received or provide any details about the discussion, including whether it touched the pay problem. Sabrina Singh also refused to reveal who received the letter or when talks with Musk began.
Musk’s Starlink constellation of over 2,200 low-orbiting satellites has connected more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations to broadband internet. Musk tweeted early Friday that it costs SpaceX $20 million a month to fulfill Ukraine’s communications needs.
Aside from terminals, he wrote that the corporation must develop, deploy, maintain, and replenish satellites and ground stations.
The importance of the Starlink satellite internet in Ukraine’s defense cannot be emphasized. It has aided front-line reconnaissance drone operators, for example, in aiming artillery strikes on important Russian assets. A senior military official stated on Friday that the US believes the technology has shown to be quite efficient on the battlefield. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer the US assessment of the battlefield in Ukraine.
During a briefing, Singh stated that the Pentagon was collaborating with the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. “We are aware of the demand and [satellite communications] capabilities that is required, and we want to be able to maintain stable connectivity for Ukrainian soldiers and Ukraine.”
The plea from the world’s richest man to have the Pentagon take up the hundreds of millions of dollars he claims the system costs follows Musk’s Twitter spat with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In tweets overnight, Musk alluded to the conflict, implying that it may influence his decision to stop his company’s generosity in sponsoring the systems.
Musk argued last week on Twitter that in order to achieve peace, Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014. He also stated that Ukraine should abandon its NATO membership bid.
Musk also launched a Twitter poll to determine whether the “will of the people” should determine whether captured regions remain in Ukraine or become part of Russia.
In a mocking response, Zelenskyy created his own Twitter poll, asking “which Elon Musk do you prefer better?”: “One who favors Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia?” Musk responded to Zelenskyy, saying, “I continue to support Ukraine, but I am convinced that a significant escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and maybe the world.”
The departing Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, reacted to Musk’s original tweet with an obscenity.
It is unknown how much of the cost of deploying Starlink satellite uplinks in Ukraine was funded by US funds. The US Agency for International Development said in April that it had supplied 5,000 of the terminals. There was no answer from the Pentagon to that inquiry.
Musk’s request that the Pentagon begin footing the bill comes at a time when the Space Force and Pentagon are examining how commercial contractors will play a role in national security.
In March, Army Gen. James Dickinson, chief of US Space Command, stated that having many suppliers supplying important capabilities, such as Maxar’s satellite images of stopped Russian convoys, has become critical since it frees up limited military satellite assets to focus on other things.
Musk also addressed a question that numerous companies and the Pentagon are exploring as space becomes a more vital component of wartime operations in his tweets: Is the US obligated to defend a commercial vendor who is supporting the US and is targeted?
“We’ve also had to fight against increasingly difficult cyberattacks and jamming,” Musk tweeted.