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Elon Musk activates SpaceX Starlink service over Ukraine
Elon Musk has told Ukraine it can no longer use his internet satellites to control drones after accusing Ukrainians of leveraging the service “in ways that were unintentional part of any agreement”. The billionaire CEO of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites had been providing Ukraine with internet services since February 2022 as Russian troops descended on their neighbouring country in a brutal invasion that has claimed millions of lives.
But SpaceX’s President, Gwynne Shotwell, said at an event on Wednesday that the service which the Ukrainian military has been using to control drones was “never meant to be weaponized”.
Ms Shotwell added: “Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
The Space President later referred to reports that the Ukrainian military had used the Starlink service to control drones, which the firm is now taking steps to prevent from happening again.
She added: “There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that. There are things that we can do, and have done.”
SpaceX linked Ukraine up to its satellite internet network, allowing online access without the need for fiber cables, just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military made its way into Ukrainian territory, marking the beginning of the brutal war.
It came after Russia unleashed a frenzy of cyberattacks against Ukraine’s infrastructure. Mr Musk has also said that Russian cyberattacks were aimed at the Starlink Starlink internet systems themselves.
The Starlink terminals were shipped over in a bid to ensure people stayed connected to the internet during the conflict. They connect to satellites in low-Earth orbit.
Back in October, the SpaceX boss warned that he could not carry on funding Starlink in Ukraine, but he quickly backtracked on this position.
And just last week, Mr Musk claimed that his Starlink satellites have become “the connectivity backbone of Ukraine all the way up to the front lines. This is the damned if you do part”.
He added in a post on Twitter: “However, we are not allowing Starlink to be used for long-range drone strikes. This is the damned if you don’t part.”
Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer in computer science at UC Berkeley, has previously warned that the Ukrainian military’s use of Starlink satellites to help with drone strikes could make them more likely to be targeted.
He told Insider: “Elon Musk is, at heart, a fast-talking, third-rate car salesman. He knows that a Starlink dish can’t be visually camouflaged due to its nature but somehow tweeted out that is what people in Ukraine should do.”
An air specialist from the military unit previously revealed that the Ukrainian military was connecting to Musk’s satellite network to help its drone technology lock onto enemy targets.
He said: “If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition.”
Ukrainian drones have also been modified with thermal cameras to identify Russian tanks at night and are equipped with anti-tank grenades.
Yaroslav Honchar, the unit commander based in Kyiv said: “We strike at night, when Russians sleep.”
An Aerorozvidka leader told The Times: “If we use a drone with thermal vision at night, the drone must connect through Starlink to the artillery guy and create target acquisition.”
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