The recent biography of SpaceX founder Elon Musk has revealed that Ukraine had asked for Starlink internet services to launch a surprise attack on Russian forces in Crimea in September 2022. However, Musk refused the request due to concerns about potential nuclear retaliation from Russia. This incident has raised questions about the need for the US military to include explicit terms in future contracts, ensuring that products or services purchased can be used during wartime.
It is important to note that Musk was not under a military contract when he refused Ukraine’s request. He had been providing terminals for free in response to Russia’s invasion in February 2022. However, the US military has since funded and officially contracted with Starlink, although specific terms and costs of the contract have not been disclosed for operational security reasons.
The reliance on commercial vendors, like SpaceX, for military purposes has raised uncertainties about their availability in times of conflict. This has prompted space systems military planners to reconsider the need for explicit agreements in future contracts. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall emphasized the importance of having assurances that commercial systems will be available for operational use during war. Otherwise, they would only be convenient and cost-effective in peacetime.
SpaceX’s contract with the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command is another example of the military’s dependence on commercial vendors. The contract aims to develop a rocket ship for quick transportation of military cargo to conflict or disaster zones. The military must be clear-eyed about the potential uses of such technologies in different scenarios.
As US military investment in space continues to grow, concerns have also emerged regarding liability and the obligation to defend commercial vendors’ assets in case of launch failures or if they provide support in a conflict.
The incident involving Musk’s refusal has ignited discussions about including language in contracts that explicitly states that firms providing military support must agree to that support being used in combat. Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, highlighted the expectation that technologies and services acquired for the Air Force will be used to support combat operations when necessary.
In conclusion, recent events have prompted the US military to reevaluate the terms of their contracts with commercial vendors. The focus is now on ensuring that products and services can be utilized during wartime and clarifying the obligations and expectations of both parties involved.