Shortly after the Russians announced they were rolling into Ukraine back in late February 2022, Elon Musk and his company SpaceX announced that they would be positioning more satellites for Starlink over the country. He saw the grim realities of the war and realized that he could help the people of Ukraine by allowing them to share their stories with the world in real time.
Many Ukrainians took advantage of the offer, and across the globe, families were thankful for the option to see their loved ones. As with many product innovations, the military took it over for help with piloting their drones across the land. Starlink president Gwynne Shotwell spoke with the press on February 8th about the change.
Talking about Starlink being used for drones she claimed “There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that. There are things that we can do and have done.” With her appearance as part of a space conference, it was necessary for her to discuss the situation and how the Ukrainians had grown to rely on and adapt to this technology. “It was never intended to be weaponized. However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
As she explained, SpaceX was okay with the Ukrainian military using Starlink for communications. However, they crossed the lines when they started using it for offensive purposes.
This also went hand in hand with a proclamation from Musk back in October 2022 with a peace proposal. His suggestion is that Ukraine stops trying to take back Crimea, as well as hand over control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Later that month Starlink connectivity was limited and not available past the front lines of the conflict. Many saw this combination as his bowing to Russian influence.
Senior defense officials were angered by Musk’s gestures, with one saying SpaceX had “the gall to look like heroes” as other nations were paying a steep cost for the efforts. As far ask Musk was concerned this would be perfectly fine. “The hell with it…we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
For the people working at Starlink, this level of innovation has been incredibly helpful in Shotwell’s eyes. “Honestly, I don’t even think we thought about it. You know, it could be used that way? We didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about it. Our Starlink team may have, I don’t know. But we’ve learned pretty quickly.”
Lessons like the Ukrainian military has been providing usually take decades and tons of prototype testing and think tanks. The ingenuity of the Ukrainian soldier on the battlefield was proof of the age-old expression “necessity is the mother of innovation.” Thankfully Starlink is looking at it as them being helpful, but they aren’t willing to stand behind the idea of Ukraine using this to wage war. Given the use of these satellites in other countries that are war-torn, there is a significant concern about them being weaponized there.
For many, the decision by SpaceX to try and avoid being weaponized is the wrong decision. Unfortunately, those who are against SpaceX choosing to keep their satellites away from combat use are being shortsighted. SpaceX is a company that wants to do business across the entire globe. They aren’t worried about pushing a political or racial agenda. Instead, they simply want to connect the globe.
Ask anyone who’s spent real time deployed, on a boat, or even living in remote America. Not having high-speed access to the internet can prove incredibly limiting for many people. From sharing the realities of their situation, to contact with loved ones, for medical help. The internet is used for more than most ever expected, and keeping Starlink from being weaponized is the brightest move the company could make.