Brigadier General Steve Butow at the Defense Innovation Unit at the Pentagon told the Politico that Elon Musk's Starlink satellites have 'totally destroyed Putin's information campaign' as he has never been able to disconnect Ukraine from the world.
Musk's Starlink service was not even online in Ukraine when the Russian aggression began. However, a tweet from Mykhailo Fedorov, the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, was all that was needed for Elon Musk to direct his company SpaceX to begin services in the region. In the 100 days of conflict that have ensued, Starlink has been helping Ukrainian soldiers connect with their superiors, tell their families they are safe, and even play 'Call of Duty' on their smartphones in their downtime, Politico reported.
How many Starlink terminals are active in Ukraine?
Last month, we reported that Starlink terminals connect as many as 150,000 Ukrainians to the internet every day. While this number might sound small compared to other countries, Ukraine is in the middle of an invasion that also saw Russia hack into the former's satellite network that it uses to connect with its frontline troops.
In an interview with Wired last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that in areas where communication was lost, Russians told the residents that Ukraine did not exist anymore. Then Starlink's services came into play, which kept the country connected to the world. Zelensky has used the service to not only communicate with frontline troops and the public at large but also with state heads of other countries such as the U.S. and France.
More than 10,000 Starlink terminals are now operational in Ukraine. 1,333 of them were provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), while private agencies donated 5,000, NBC News reported. Equipment worth $15 million has been shipped from SpaceX to Ukraine, with the space company currently footing the bill for the services, Politico said in its report.
Why does Starlink work in conflict zones?
Butow also told Politico that Musk called for a meeting the day after the Russian invasion began to see how Starlink could be used in Ukraine. Over the weekend, 500 terminals had showed up in the country, and by Monday, all but 25 were operational. Starlink owners such as Oleg Kutkov, who had bought the dish previously and were waiting for the services to begin, also reported that the services had begun shortly after the invasion.
However, it is not just the pace of private enterprise that makes Starlink work. The service relies on a constellation of low-orbit satellites to deliver high-speed internet to users across the globe. In March this year, Elon Musk said that Starlink would have a whopping 4,200 active satellites by 2023.
This is way too many targets to engage in a contested arena-like space, and even if adversaries were to take them down, SpaceX would be able to replace them very quickly.
In a tweet last month, Musk also said that Starlink satellites were targets of Russian cyberattacks and SpaceX was working to stay ahead of the game.
Starlink has resisted Russian cyberwar jamming & hacking attempts so far, but they’re ramping up their efforts https://t.co/w62yCsDA5w— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2022
It is hardly a surprise then that Musk finds himself at the receiving end of the alleged threats from the Russian military.
Starlink satellites have indeed thwarted Russia's plans to isolate Ukraine, giving Ukraine visibility in these dark times.