The Pentagon on Friday confirmed that the Biden administration was in talks with SpaceX over who will foot the bill for the critical internet service in Ukraine provided by the company’s Starlink service.
The director of government sales for SpaceX, owned by CEO Elon Musk, reportedly sent a letter to the Pentagon last month stating it could no longer fund Starlink in Ukraine as it is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to keep it running for the next year, according to documents CNN said it obtained.
“I can confirm that the [Defense Department] has been in communication with SpaceX regarding Starlink,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Friday. “I’m not going to get into further details of this discussion just now. . . . But we’re working with our partners and allies in trying to figure out what’s best.”
Pressed repeatedly as to when the Pentagon first began communications with SpaceX, who was involved and the nature of the talks, Singh would not offer details.
She added that officials “understand the fragility” of the Ukrainian communications system and are “assessing our options and trying to do what we can to help keep these . . . capabilities to ensure that these communications remain for the Ukrainian forces.”
“There are certainly other [satellite communication] capabilities that exist out there,” Singh said, when asked if there are any other commercially available alternatives to Starlink. “There’s not just SpaceX, there are other entities that we can certainly partner with when it comes to providing Ukraine with what they need on the battlefield.”
Starlink services in Ukraine are critical to the country in its ongoing war with Russia, and losing such a communications system is likely to have a detrimental effect on its armed forces. The Ukrainian military has credited the reliable, lightweight and mobile internet terminals as crucial to military and civilian communication.
Musk earlier on Friday seemed to confirm that SpaceX had reached out to the Pentagon regarding Starlink costs when he tweeted that his company must “create, launch, maintain & replenish satellites & ground stations & pay telcos for access to Internet via gateways,” as well as “defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder.” He claimed that was costing the company about $20 million a month.
SpaceX’s communications with the Pentagon come as Musk, the world’s richest man, has faced intense scrutiny over his suggestions for a negotiated settlement to end the war. He proposed that Russia keep Crimea in such a settlement, an idea that was roundly rejected by Ukrainian leaders.
And though Musk initially received widespread acclaim for providing the Starlink service to Ukraine at the start of the war, it was revealed that most of the 20,000 terminals in the country are completely or partially funded by outside sources such as the U.S. government, the United Kingdom and Poland, CNN reported.