SpaceX has taken action to restrict the Ukrainian army from using its Starlink internet service to control weapon-laden drones on the battlefield.
Soon after Russia began destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure following its invasion last year, SpaceX started shipping numerous Starlink dishes — linked to SpaceX satellites in low-Earth orbit — to help the Ukrainian government, hospitals, banks, and others get back online.
But the Ukrainian army has reportedly been deploying the technology to target the enemy with drones, while a report last month suggested that it was in the final stages of developing a strike drone capable of flying 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) with a payload weighing up to 165 pounds (75 kilograms).
Speaking at an event in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that while it was OK for the Ukrainian army to use Starlink for communications, its internet technology was “never meant to be weaponized.”
In comments reported by Reuters, Shotwell said that the Ukrainians had leveraged its technology “in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
The SpaceX executive revealed that the company has already put in place measures to limit the army’s ability to use Starlink for offensive purposes, though she didn’t say exactly what this action involved.
In a tweet at the end of January, SpaceX boss Elon Musk said that whatever approach SpaceX took with regard to the use of its Starlink equipment in Ukraine, he would be criticized. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he said, adding: “Starlink has become the connectivity backbone of Ukraine all the way up to the front lines. This is the damned if you do part.
“However, we are not allowing Starlink to be used for long-range drone strikes. This is the damned if you don’t part.”
SpaceX has covered the cost of some of the Starlink terminals sent to Ukraine, while the U.S. and other governments have also sent their own shipments as part of support efforts.
According to Musk, Russia has been trying to jam Starlink signals in Ukraine, though SpaceX responded by making its software more resilient.