SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s decision to deny Ukraine access to Starlink internet services for a surprise attack on Russian forces in Crimea has prompted Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to suggest that future military contracts should specify whether purchased products or services can be utilized in war.
According to a biography of Musk published by The Washington Post, Ukraine requested Starlink support in September 2022 to attack Russian naval vessels in Sevastopol, Crimea. However, Musk declined due to fears of a possible nuclear retaliation from Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Although Musk was not under a military contract at the time of the Crimea request, the US military has since established an official contract with Starlink. The Pentagon has kept the details confidential for operational security reasons.
The incident with Musk has led military planners in the space systems sector to reevaluate the need for explicit terms in future agreements. Kendall stressed the importance of having assurances that commercial vendors will be available in times of conflict, as the military relies heavily on SpaceX for various operations.
In addition to ongoing support from Starlink, SpaceX is collaborating with the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command to develop a rocket ship capable of rapidly transporting military cargo to conflict or disaster zones. General Mike Minihan emphasized the need for the private sector to understand the potential applications of their technology.
As the US military’s investment in space continues to grow, concerns have emerged regarding liability and the military’s responsibility to protect the assets of commercial vendors providing military support. Musk’s refusal in Ukraine highlighted the lack of specific language addressing the use of support in combat situations.
Andrew Hunter, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, stated that when acquiring technology or services, it is expected that they will be used for Air Force purposes, including support for combat operations when necessary. The US military is now considering the inclusion of explicit language in contracts to address such scenarios.