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Senators Seek Pentagon’s Clarification Regarding SpaceX’s Starlink Service in Ukraine

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Senators Seek Pentagon's Clarification Regarding SpaceX's Starlink Service in Ukraine

In Washington, three Democratic senators who are members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services have formally requested information from the Pentagon regarding SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Specifically, they are inquiring whether Musk was responsible for unilaterally disabling or obstructing the functionality of Starlink satellite communication terminals utilized by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in southern Ukraine during 2022. Furthermore, the senators are seeking clarity on whether Musk possessed the authority to take such actions. This inquiry comes from Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who jointly penned a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on a Friday. In their letter, they expressed profound concerns regarding the possibility of Musk personally intervening to undermine a crucial U.S. ally during a pivotal moment.

Their inquiries arise in the wake of a recently published biography of Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, as well as the proprietor and chief technology officer of the social platform formerly known as Twitter, now called X. In this biography penned by author Walter Isaacson, it was stated that Elon Musk had allegedly ordered the disconnection of Starlink, resulting in the disruption of a Ukrainian drone submarine’s attack on Russian warships.

Passages from the book triggered concern not only in Washington but also among NATO allies and in the Ukrainian capital. Following their publication, Elon Musk portrayed himself as a peacemaker and took to social media to clarify that he did not disconnect Starlink over Crimea; rather, he declined a request from Ukraine to enable its service in that region. He explained, “If I had acceded to their request, SpaceX would have been directly involved in a significant act of war and escalation of conflict.” In response to the controversy, author Walter Isaacson issued a correction to his biography, noting that connectivity had already been disabled in the affected area, and Musk had merely refused a request to re-establish it.

Musk reiterated his stance, consistent with his previous statements, that Ukraine should pursue a “ceasefire” arrangement with Russia. However, his “peace plan” proposal faced strong opposition from Ukrainian officials, politicians, and experts on Russian President Putin. In a Tuesday interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Isaacson talked about SpaceX’s efforts to create a military-grade iteration of Starlink. This development aims to address the concerns raised by Musk concerning the satellite network’s application in wartime scenarios.

CNBC directed a series of inquiries to the U.S. Department of Defense concerning SpaceX. These questions encompassed whether the department intended to review any of the company’s governmental agreements, whether Elon Musk’s appeals for a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia aligned with the official stance of the U.S. government, and whether Musk’s actions, such as his prior personal meetings with Putin, adhered to the terms of the contracts granted to his company. In response to these inquiries, Jeff Jurgensen, a spokesperson for the department, communicated via email with CNBC, stating, “The Department does engage in contracts with Starlink for satellite communication services in support of our Ukrainian partners.” However, he opted not to provide further elaboration or address the specific questions presented.

Furthermore, he emphasized that the Department of Defense is actively collaborating with the commercial industry to ensure that they possess the appropriate capabilities required by Ukraine for their defense, as well as broader communication and space-related capabilities essential for fulfilling global missions and supporting the national defense strategy.

Earlier in the week, Senator Warren had urged for a Congressional investigation into Elon Musk and SpaceX. She stated, “Congress must scrutinize the events in question and assess whether we have effective mechanisms in place to ensure that foreign policy decisions are made by the government rather than being influenced by a single billionaire.” This call for investigation was first reported by Bloomberg on Monday.

SpaceX is presently in the process of acquiring a fresh license from the Federal Aviation Administration, along with approvals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in order to recommence test flights for its Starship Super Heavy launch system at its facility in Boca Chica, Texas. An earlier test flight earlier this year ended in an explosion, prompting a thorough investigation supervised and recently concluded by the FAA. The company’s intention is to utilize the Starship for the launch and deployment of its next-generation Starlink satellites. Elon Musk also envisions the Starship being used for transporting astronauts and supplies to the moon and, eventually, to Mars.

About Rajesh Parmar

Rajesh Parmar

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