SpaceX said it had taken steps to prevent the Ukrainian military from using Starlink satellite internet to control drones during the war with Russia, writes Reuters.
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said during a conference in Washington that the Starlink satellite Internet service, which provided the Ukrainian military with broadband to defend against the Russian military, “was never meant to be weaponized.”
“However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she said.
Later, speaking to journalists, Shotwell referred to reports that the Ukrainian military used the Starlink service to control drones. Ukraine really effectively uses unmanned aerial vehicles to detect enemy positions, conduct long-range fire, and drop bombs.
“There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that,” she said, referring to Starlink’s use with drones. “There are things that we can do, and have done.”
Shotwell declined to say what steps SpaceX had taken. The use of Starlink drones is outside the scope of the agreement SpaceX has with the Ukrainian government, she said, adding that the contract was intended for humanitarian purposes, such as providing broadband internet to hospitals, banks and families affected by the Russian invasion.
“We know the military is using them for comms, and that’s ok,” she said. “But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”
SpaceX privately delivered trucks with Starlink terminals to Ukraine, which allows the country’s military to organize communications in the war zone thanks to the almost 4,000 satellites that SpaceX has already launched into low Earth orbit. The governments of countries such as the US and France have paid for other supplies of Starlink terminals in addition to those funded privately by SpaceX.
When asked if SpaceX envisioned using Starlink for offensive purposes in Ukraine when it made the decision to send the terminals to conflict zones, Shotwell said: “We didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about it. Our starlink team may have, I don’t know. But we learned pretty quickly.”
Starlink suffered disruptions in Ukraine late last year for reasons that SpaceX did not explain.
Asked if those outages were related to SpaceX’s efforts to curb offensive use of Starlink, Shotwell said: “I don’t want to answer it because I’m not sure I know the answer.”