OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The United States Pentagon has responded to Elon Musk’s announcement that he cannot continue to fund his Starlink Internet service for free for the Ukrainian military in its war with Russia.
Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh informed reporters on Friday that the United States is “assessing our options” to keep the Internet working for Ukraine’s military.
“And you mentioned this a little bit, but could you get into the wider implications of, you know, if Starlink is proven integral to the Ukrainians and up to this stage , what happens if they no longer have that capability? And are you starting contingency plans for that?” a reporter said.
“Well, we certainly recognize the advantages that any SATCOM capability has and allows the Ukrainians to use not just on the battlefield, but within — within the country itself. And we understand the fragility in those communications, and it’s important that not just command-and-control remain intact on the battlefield, but throughout. But again, we’re assessing our options and trying to do what we can to help these SATCOM communications, the capabilities to ensure that these communications remain for the Ukrainian forces,” the spokeswoman said.
“There’ve been some kind of competing claims on who — who has paid for Starlink so far. Has it been privately donated, or has this been — has this been U.S. government-funded primarily?” the reporter said.
“I’ve seen the open-source reporting out there that there have been donations from — I think it was characterized as different partners. I don’t have more for you on that at this time.
“Again, in terms of what this department decides to do, in terms of a SATCOM capability needed for Ukraine, I don’t have anything to announce of further assistance at this time,” the spokeswoman said.
“Just to follow up on that — Okay, so without getting into the private donations, has there been U.S. government funding for this to date?” the reporter said.
“From here, I’m not aware — I’m not sure what payment has been — if any, has been made, so I would have to get back to you on that, but again, what we are doing right now and what the department is doing is we are working with the Ukraine Ministry of Defense. We know that there is this demand and SATCOM capability is needed and we want to be able to ensure that there is stable communication for the Ukrainian forces and for Ukraine. And so that’s why we’re working and we’re going to work with our partners and allies to look at all options on how best we can support those identified by Ukraine,” the spokeswoman said.
Musk and his company donated terminals and Internet access to the Ukraine military that has been crucial in its war with Russia, but the company says it can no longer do that “indefinitely” and has asked the United States Pentagon to pay for the Internet service, CNBC reported.
“SpaceX’s request is reasonable. Shouldn’t expect a private sec co. to continue to fund this for free forever. Do Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop, etc do their work for free? SpaceX was generous in donating what they did & they’ll happily cont. to mfg terminals with gov money,” a Tesla investor named Sawyer Merritt said on Twitter, which Musk responded to.
Exactly. Unlike most of the other companies on the top 10 biggest defense contractors list, SpaceX is not publicly traded and doesn't have huge revenue (yet).
— Sawyer Merritt (@SawyerMerritt) October 14, 2022
“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable,” Musk said.
SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2022
But musk hinted that there may be more at play in response to another tweet.
“Elon Musk’s Starlink says it can no longer afford to give Ukraine free service and asks the Pentagon to pay for it. Starlink had been a game changer in the war. This comes days after Ukrainian Ambassador @MelnykAndrij told Musk to ‘f””k off,” reporter Jason Jay Smart said.
“We’re just following his recommendation,” Musk said.
We’re just following his recommendation 🤷♂️
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2022
This month Musk offered his solutions for peace between Ukraine and Russia that included doing the elections of the regions annexed by Russia but with United Nations supervision and Russia will leave if that is what the people vote for. Crimea will formally become a part of Russia and water supply to Crimea would be assured. Ukraine would remain neutral.
“F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you Elon Musk,” the ambassador said.
“The only outcome is that now no Ukrainian will EVER buy your fing tesla crap. So good luck to you,” he said.
In a letter to the Pentagon sent in September, Space X said it could not continue to fund the Internet for Ukraine as it has been, CNN reported.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” it said.
Another letter to the Pentagon was penned by a consultant working for Space X.
“SpaceX faces terribly difficult decisions here. I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General Zaluzhniy,” they said.