Elon Musk and SpaceX no longer want to pay for Starlinks given to Ukrainians

The boss of SpaceX Elon Musk assures that the costs related to the operations of the Starlinks deployed in Ukraine will have cost him 100 million dollars by the end of the year. Figures questioned by CNN and which are perhaps the mark of yet another change of mind of the sulphurous Mr. Musk.

War is expensive: this is the experience of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Blamed in a Financial Times article for service cuts on the Ukrainian war field, Mr. Musk reacted on Twitter by explaining that very few Starlink terminals have been paid for, and that “ this operation cost SpaceX 80 million dollars and this sum should reach 100 million by the end of the year “.

Thanks to Starlink, it only takes one or two men to set up a mobile broadband satellite connection. © Ukrainian Forces

In addition to its reusable space launcher activity, SpaceX has begun to deploy a constellation of telecommunications satellites. Called Starlink, this service that allows you to connect to the internet from almost any point on earth has had a major influence on the actions of Ukrainian defenders against the Russian invaders. While the Russians have destroyed billions of dollars of infrastructure, including those dedicated to communications, the Ukrainians have been able to deploy soldiers and command centers ultra quickly and in an ultra-connected way. When the Russians rely on obsolete or unprotected modes of communication.

The reaction of the head of SpaceX is corroborated by documents that Mr. Musk sent to the Pentagon last month in which he explains that he cannot continue to invest in the military use of Starlink from which the Ukrainian government benefits. Elon Musk urgently requests that the Pentagon take over the financial responsibility for a service which he then estimates at 120 million dollars for 2022 and 400 million dollars for the next 12 months.

Starlink changes battle time

Starlink changes battle time

In order to support its remarks, the SpaceX company has an outside consultant detail the costs generated by the Ukrainian operation to the Starlink network. Accounting reports supporting the number of terminals, as well as the unit costs for the company or the intensity of the use of the satellite network.

To the credit of SpaceX and Mr. Musk, there is no doubt that Starlink’s arrival on the Ukrainian battlefield will go down in the annals of wartime history. The transit of information being indeed, just like the logistics or the morale of the troops, a centerpiece of the art of war, in front of the raw firepower or the level of such or such troop. The speed and flow of information transfer has notably enabled the video piloting of troops, allowing officers to better guide – and protect – their troops.

In addition to the recent dazzling advances, which have been made possible in particular by the great mobility of the Ukrainian troops – mobility exacerbated by their ability to rely on such a nomadic communication network – the second proof is the difficulties they encounter when Starlink is broken-down. According to a CNN source, recent Starlink outages “ont affected all Ukrainian efforts to push back the front line. […] Starlink is the primary communication tool that units have on the battlefield “. And when the main communication tool in wartime turns out to be a non-sovereign and uncontrolled service, any cut becomes a nightmare – there is no doubt that we follow this closely at the French War School.

Musk is Musk

The concern for Mr. Musk in these cuts and this “awakening” to the associated costs is, once again, in comments he made on Twitter (which he still has not redeemed!). Contrary to his clearly pro-Ukrainian attitude, Mr. Musk surprised the world by publishing a poll proposing new elections in the disputed areas as well as a definitive attachment of Crimea to Russia.

It is Poland that has purchased the most terminals for Ukraine, with no less than 9,000 units already paid for.  Here, a delivery of 150 terminals.  © Ukrainian Forces
It is Poland that has purchased the most terminals for Ukraine, with no less than 9,000 units already paid for. Here, a delivery of 150 terminals. © Ukrainian Forces

In addition, if SpaceX pays part of the transmission bill, the figures communicated of $500/less relate to a professional-type service while the terminals could be satisfied with consumer speeds at $60/less. Finally, SpaceX did not pay for all of the 25,000 terminals deployed in Ukraine: very far from it. According to figures from CNN, 85% of the terminals were paid for, in whole or in part, by countries friendly to Ukraine. The country’s main support in this area is Poland, which has purchased no less than 9,000 terminals.

Perhaps, like the deal with Twitter, Mr. Musk is trying to disengage from his initial position as a defender of freedom. This has served him well with China: after his Twitter “referendum” on Ukraine, Mr. Musk took a stand in an interview for the “reunification” of China with Taiwan – while Taiwan is a sovereign state. This has earned it a sales boom in China, as reported by the Financial Times. Business is business?

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