Sat. Sep 30th, 2023
U.S. Military Considers Explicit Contract Language After Elon Musk Refuses Starlink for Ukraine

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s decision to deny Ukraine the use of Starlink internet services for a surprise attack on Russian forces in Crimea has prompted discussions about the need for more explicit language in future contracts. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall raised concerns about whether the U.S. military should explicitly state that purchased services or products could be used in warfare.

In September 2022, the Ukrainians requested Starlink support to attack Russian naval vessels in Crimea. Musk declined the request, fearing that Russia would retaliate with a nuclear strike. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and claims it as its own territory.

Musk’s refusal occurred outside of a military contract, as he had been providing terminals to Ukraine for free in response to Russia’s invasion in February 2022. However, since then, the U.S. military officially contracted with Starlink for continued support with undisclosed terms and costs.

While the Pentagon relies on SpaceX for various services beyond the Ukraine response, the possibility of a commercial vendor refusing services during a future conflict has prompted military planners to reconsider the need for explicit agreements. Kendall emphasized the importance of assurance and availability of commercial systems if they are to be used operationally in the military.

SpaceX also holds a contract with the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command to develop a rocket ship for rapidly transporting military cargo into conflict or disaster zones, potentially reducing dependence on slower aircraft or ships. General Mike Minihan of the Air Mobility Command acknowledged the need for clarity on the possible uses of American industry’s contributions.

As the U.S. military invests more in space, concerns arise about the indemnification of commercial vendors and the military’s responsibility to protect their assets during military support in conflicts. Prior to Musk’s refusal, there was no focus on mandating that firms providing military support agree to their services being used in combat.

Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, stated that when acquiring technology, services, or platforms, it is expected that they will be used for Air Force purposes, including supporting combat operations when necessary.