SpaceX partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development to send thousands of Starlink user terminals to the country of Ukraine amid the war with Russia. The Starlink satellite broadband network has proven to be a reliable source of communication in the country, especially for emergency response teams that are working around-the-clock to keep civilians safe from Russian soldiers’ aggression.
Soon after Starlink kits were delivered to Ukraine on February 28, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and his engineering teams worked to introduce a software update on March 3rd to enable the Starlink user terminals to work on low-power consumption to assist Ukrainians without electricity to use Starlink antennas with energy from a car’s cigarette lighter. SpaceX also enabled data roaming across Ukraine so that users can have satellite internet service coverage anywhere they go. Musk also donated car adapters and Tesla power generators to help Ukrainians.
Then the Starlink network started to face Russian cyberattacks and Musk announced SpaceX engineers shifted their priorities to cyber defense to protect the internet network from hacking and signal jamming. "Some Starlink terminals near conflict areas were being jammed for several hours at a time. Our latest software update bypasses the jamming," said Musk on March 4th. "Am curious to see what’s next!" There are no specific details about the cyber warfare, however, Musk shared that with a software update the Starlink network “resisted all hacking and jamming attempts.”
The United States Department of Defense (DoD) is impressed by the SpaceX Starlink team’s ability to beat Russia signal-jamming in Ukraine and aims to have that ability. "[...] In kind of the way Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that agility," said Dave Tremper, director of electronic warfare for the Pentagon’s acquisition office. "There’s a really interesting case study to look at the agility that Starlink had in their ability to address that problem," he added. "And inevitably, what was the impact if they couldn’t address the problem?"
“From an EW [Electronic Warfare] technologist perspective, that is fantastic. That paradigm and how they did that is kind of eye-watering to me,” said Temper, “The way that Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that ability. We have to be able to change our electromagnetic posture, to be able to change very dynamically what we’re trying to do without losing capability along the way,” he said on April 20th during the C4ISRNET military conference.
During the virtual conference, DoD representatives said that activities in Ukraine are providing insight into what are Russia’s technological capabilities. “We’re learning a lot about what Russia has been investing their money in, the sophistication and the reliability of their equipment, and [...] their ability to execute that mission in a synchronized fashion,” said Brig. Gen. Tad Clark, the Air Force’s director of electromagnetic spectrum superiority, “It gives us some insight of where certain countries are, where we are, where we need to be, and where we want to be.”
Featured Image Source: SpaceX