Starlink Satellites ‘New Targets’ For Russian Military; EW Boss Issues Stern Warning To Musk’s SpaceX

The head of the Electronic Warfare Troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Yuri Lastochkin, declared that the Russian military could potentially target the new terminals of the Starlink system used by Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.

Yuri Lastochkin revealed that the Russian military-industrial complex (MIC) possessed the capability to designate the new terminals of the Starlink communication system in Kyiv as potential targets in its “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

Lastochkin made these remarks during an interview on April 15. According to Lastochkin, the Starlink communication system, developed by SpaceX (owned by Elon Musk), has been integrated into various levels of command and control within the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). 

He cited radio intelligence data throughout the ongoing conflict as evidence of the extensive use of these terminals by Ukrainian forces. These systems are instrumental in drone control and other critical military communications.

“The existing scientific and technical groundwork of the enterprises of the military-industrial complex allows us to quickly take measures to include new facilities in the list of targets for impact,” Lastochkin explained, addressing Russian forces’ ability to adapt to evolving technologies on the battlefield.

Lastochkin observed that Starlink’s commercial infrastructure, originally intended to provide internet access to remote and underserved areas, has found utility in military applications. He criticized this dual use of technology, framing it as indicative of the United States’ alleged double standards in international affairs.

While Lastochkin did not provide specifics on how Russian forces might target these Starlink terminals, the implications of such a capability could significantly affect the Ukrainian armed forces. 

In August 2023, the United States accused Moscow of purportedly attempting to interfere with the usage of Starlink within the territory of Ukraine.  

According to Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Development of Education, Science, and Technology – Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, approximately 47 thousand terminals of the Starlink system are operational in Ukraine as of December 2023.

On March 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry highlighted the unacceptable nature of employing commercial satellites for military purposes. Moscow has argued that it sees this trend as an increasing threat, as it affects the interests of a majority of UN member states, with a particular focus on developing nations.

Russia Is Also Using Starlink Terminals

Ukraine relies heavily on Starlink for communication infrastructure. Despite the strategic importance of Starlink to Ukrainian defense, controversies have regularly arisen regarding its usage. 

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and the visionary behind Starlink, has advocated for diplomatic resolutions to the conflict in Ukraine, earning criticism from Kyiv. 

More, allegations surfaced last year suggesting that access to Starlink over Crimea was restricted in 2022, sparking further tensions. Ukrainian authorities had even explored alternatives but acknowledged the indispensable role of the system in maintaining national defense. 

Should communication services be disrupted, the Ukrainian military’s operational capabilities could be severely compromised. Recently, it was also reported that Russian troops in Ukraine have also been utilizing thousands of Starlink satellite communication terminals.

Russian troops have reportedly obtained these Starlink terminals through private Russian firms, which acquired them from intermediaries. These intermediaries reportedly facilitate the transfer of equipment to Russia through neighboring countries, including former Soviet Republics. 

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Russian intermediaries procure Starlink hardware through online retail platforms such as eBay in the US or via the black market in regions like Central Asia, Dubai, or Southeast Asia. Subsequently, they smuggle the acquired equipment into Russia. 

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Also, Starlink hardware has found its way into the possession of the Sudanese insurgent group known as the Rapid Support Forces, which is supported by the Russian mercenary Wagner Group. The revelation underscores the strategic significance of Starlink in modern military operations. 

However, Starlink has publicly stated that it does not engage in business activities within Russia or with Russian entities. 

Yet, the situation has placed considerable pressure on SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, as US lawmakers have directed significant criticism towards them, questioning the efficacy of the company’s safeguards and its role in preventing the unauthorized use of Starlink technology by Russian forces and affiliated groups.  

Some US lawmakers have gone as far as to probe SpaceX regarding Russia’s illicit acquisition of Starlink. Incidentally, the Pentagon is collaborating with SpaceX and the Ukrainian government in efforts to prevent Russian forces from utilizing the company’s satellite communication terminals in Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.