SpaceX doesn't want Ukraine using Starlink to control military drones

Ukraine says it's only using satellite internet for defense.

Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Elon Musk's SpaceX may be willing to supply Ukraine with Starlink service as it repels the Russian invasion, but it's not thrilled with every use of the satellite internet technology. Operating chief Gwynne Shotwell tells guests at a Federal Aviation Administration conference that SpaceX objects to reported uses of Starlink to control military drones. While the company doesn't mind troops using satellite broadband for communication, it doesn't mean for the platform to be used for "offensive purposes," Shotwell says.

The executive adds that SpaceX can limit Ukraine's ability to use Starlink with combat drones, and has already done so. The company hasn't explained how it curbs use in the field.

Ukraine says it's not alarmed. National security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov tells The Washington Post the country doesn't rely solely on Starlink for military operations, and may only need to "change the means of attack" in some cases. Interior ministry advisor Anton Gerahchenko, meanwhile, argues that Ukraine "liberate[s]" rather than attacking, and that Starlink has saved "hundreds of thousands of lives."

Starlink has proved important to life in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last year. The country uses the service to connect civilians, government agencies and military units that can't rely on terrestrial internet access. For drones, this could let Ukraine coordinate reconnaissance flights, long-distance targeting and bomb attacks.

SpaceX has a contentious relationship with Ukraine. The firm was quick to provide Starlink terminals soon after the war began, albeit with US government help. Musk complained that it was becoming too expensive to fund service indefinitely, but changed his mind soon after. And while Ukraine struck a deal in December to get thousands more terminals with EU assistance, that came just weeks after a steep price hike.