Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly encountered interruptions in Starlink’s satellite internet connectivity as they fight against invading Russian forces, Financial Times reported on October 7.
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Under the condition of anonymity, two government officials told the news outlet that soldiers encountered connectivity issues when they visited cities that had just been liberated from the Russian occupation.
Since the liberation of some areas had not yet been announced, experts speculate that the problem may have been caused by SpaceX employees trying to prevent the Russian military from using the technology.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, tweeted a response to the article. “This operation has cost SpaceX $80M & will exceed $100M by the end of year.”. “Bad reporting by FT. This article falsely claims that Starlink terminals & service were paid for when only a small percentage have been,” he added. “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified,” he noted.
Bad reporting by FT. This article falsely claims that Starlink terminals & service were paid for, when only a small percentage have been.
This operation has cost SpaceX $80M & will exceed $100M by end of year.
As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 7, 2022
Is Russia’s “Tirada” Suppressing Starlink?
On the other hand, Russian media presents a dramatically different version. They claim that the Russian military decided to use the Tirada-2S satellite communications electronic jamming system against Starlink.
There is not much information available about the system in the public domain. It is believed that the development of the equipment began in 2001 when the requirement for a system emerged that could block satellite connection with ground-based terminals and transceivers on aircraft.
The system may have seen several setbacks during its development phase. Economic sanctions imposed by the West could have contributed to the delays since they forced many Russian enterprises involved in the defense and space sectors to move from imported to domestically produced electronic components.
Experts believe that the “Tirada” is designed in two different configurations: stationary and mobile on a wheeled chassis. The mock-up of the hardware with very hazy explanations of its capabilities appeared at both closed and public presentations, including the International Air Show MAKS-2013.
The Tirada was developed at the 46th Central Research Institute of the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense, and 16 years later, in 2017, the institute declared that the entire program would soon be completed.
Despite all the setbacks, Tirada-2 appears to have some operational capability. In August 2018, the Ministry of Defense ordered the Vladimir Radio Equipment Factory to supply Tirada-2S complexes.
The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) claimed in April 2019 that one of its drones had seen a Tirada-2S truck in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The Digital Forensic Research Lab’s subsequent research, however, showed that the vehicle visible in the images was most likely an additional EW system named R-934BMV.
The System Capabilities
The Tirada-1D system, which Russian scientists had already developed during the Soviet era, was the previous version of such a system. The new complex, however, differs significantly from the previous one.
Tirada-2S is outfitted with specialized direction-finding technology to help it locate itself in the sky after processing incoming data to identify adversary communication systems.
This equipment identifies the area in which the satellite signal operates. It is also possible that the machine’s functionality will allow it to receive information from fixed radar stations, which offer more precise information on the spacecraft’s location.
The system creates directed interference that interferes with the satellite’s transceiver. Nothing is destroyed there, but a thick “veil” completely denies the satellite the chance to receive a signal from the Earth.
As a result, the interaction between the spacecraft and ground and air-based stations is completely disabled. The regular satellite signals and even the combat ones, such as military communications and surveillance satellites, can be turned off.
Russian experts believe that military satellites will be more exposed as automated systems attempt to overcome interference brought on by Tirada-2S, resulting in greater battery drain and a heavy demand on the onboard power system. However, there has been no proof of these claims.
According to a military review publication, the Starlink system is theoretically one of the viable targets for Russian forces.
Meanwhile, the article emphasized that Starlink is so effective that it serves as nearly the sole means of space communications for the Ukrainian military units to ensure sustained communication, reconnaissance, and navigation.
On the other hand, while Elon Musk’s business acknowledges that the Starlink satellite Internet has been disrupted, they offer no answers for why this has happened.