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Business News/ News / World/  Elon Musk's Starlink denial for Ukraine's Crimea operation sparks Pentagon inquiry
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Elon Musk's Starlink denial for Ukraine's Crimea operation sparks Pentagon inquiry

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggests clearer language in military contracts after Elon Musk denied Starlink to Ukraine.

(FILES) SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an event during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, on June 16, 2023. A hotly anticipated biography of Elon Musk describes the turbulent tycoon as a man driven by childhood demons, obsessed with bringing human life to Mars and who demands that staff be 'hardcore.' (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP) (AFP)Premium
(FILES) SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an event during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, on June 16, 2023. A hotly anticipated biography of Elon Musk describes the turbulent tycoon as a man driven by childhood demons, obsessed with bringing human life to Mars and who demands that staff be 'hardcore.' (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP) (AFP)

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has suggested that Elon Musk's decision to deny Ukraine access to Starlink internet services for a potential attack on Russian forces in Crimea last September has prompted discussions about the need for clearer language in future contracts with the US military, specifying how procured services or products may be employed in wartime scenarios.

As per a report by AP, excerpts from a recent biography of Elon Musk, as reported by The Washington Post last week, disclosed that in September 2022, Ukrainian authorities had requested Starlink support for a potential offensive against Russian naval vessels stationed at Sevastopol, located in Crimea.

Musk declined the request out of apprehensions that Russia might retaliate with a nuclear strike in response. It's important to note that Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and asserts its sovereignty over the region.

Also Read: Elon Musk prevented nuclear war between Ukraine-Russia? Here is the reality

When Elon Musk declined the request related to Crimea, he was not operating under a military contract; instead, he had been offering free terminals to Ukraine as a response to Russia's invasion in February 2022.

Subsequently, the US military has entered into an official contract with Starlink and provided funding for ongoing support. The specifics of this contract, including its terms and costs, have not been publicly disclosed by the Pentagon, citing the need for operational security, AP reported.

“But the Pentagon is reliant on SpaceX for far more than the Ukraine response, and the uncertainty that Musk or any other commercial vendor could refuse to provide services in a future conflict has led space systems military planners to reconsider what needs to be explicitly laid out in future agreements", Kendall said during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association convention at National Harbor, Maryland, on Monday.

Also Read: Did Elon Musk speak to Vladimir Putin personally? Ex-Pentagon official says ‘He was looking for way to…’

“If we’re going to rely upon commercial architectures or commercial systems for operational use, then we have to have some assurances that they’re going to be available," Kendall said. “We have to have that. Otherwise, they are a convenience and maybe an economy in peacetime, but they’re not something we can rely upon in wartime."

SpaceX also has the contract to help the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command develop a rocket ship that would quickly move military cargo into a conflict zone or disaster zone, which could alleviate the military’s reliance on slower aircraft or ships. While not specifying SpaceX, Gen. Mike Minihan, head of Air Mobility Command, said, “American industry has to be clear-eyed on the full spectrum of what it could be used for."

With the recent rise in US military investment in space, there have been growing concerns regarding the need to protect commercial vendors from liability in the event of launch failures and whether the U.S. military is obligated to safeguard the assets of these companies, such as satellites or ground stations, when they are involved in providing military support during conflicts.

Also Read: Did Elon Musk speak to Vladimir Putin personally? Ex-Pentagon official says ‘He was looking for way to…’

AP noted that before Elon Musk's refusal in the Ukraine situation, there had not been significant attention given to the necessity of including language in contracts stipulating that a company providing military support during wartime must agree that their support could be utilized in actual combat scenarios.

“We acquire technology, we acquire services, required platforms to serve the Air Force mission, or in this case, the Department of the Air Force," said Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

“So that is an expectation, that it is going to be used for Air Force purposes, which will include, when necessary, to be used to support combat operations."

(With inputs from AP)

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Published: 12 Sep 2023, 07:06 AM IST
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