What Happened After Starlink’s Satellite Internet Service Arrived in Ukraine?

The Washington Post looks at what happened after Starlink activated its satellite-based internet service to help Ukraine

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Ukraine has already received thousands of antennas from Musk’s companies and European allies, which has proved “very effective,” Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov said in an interview with The Washington Post Friday.

“The quality of the link is excellent,” Fedorov said through a translator, using a Starlink connection from an undisclosed location. “We are using thousands, in the area of thousands, of terminals with new shipments arriving every other day..

” A person familiar with Starlink’s effort in Ukraine, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said there are more than 5,000 terminals in the country.

Internet flows deteriorated on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and have not fully recovered, according to data-monitoring services. But since that initial dip, connectivity has remained fairly stable, with mainly temporary, isolated outages even during heavy Russian shelling.

“Every day there are outages, but generally service comes back,” said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis for Kentik, which monitors global data flows.

Even before Fedorov tweeted at Musk for help, SpaceX was working on a way to get Starlink to Ukraine. President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a talk at California Institute of Technology this month that the company had been working for several weeks to get regulatory approval to allow the satellites to communicate in Ukraine.

In addition, the Washington Post reports, this week on Twitter Elon Musk also “challenged Putin to a fight and followed up by pledging he would use just one hand if Putin was scared. And he told Putin he could bring a bear.” Reached for comment by the Post’s reporters, Elon Musk responded by telling The Post to give his regards “to your puppet master Besos,” following it with two emojis.

But the Post’s article also argues Starlink’s technology “could have widespread implications for the future of war. Internet has become an essential tool for communication, staying informed and even powering weapons.” And The Telegraph reports that Starlink “is helping Ukrainian forces win the drone war as they use the technology in their effort to track and kill invading Russians.

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“In the vanguard of Ukraine’s astonishingly effective military effort against Vladimir Putin’s forces is a unit called Aerorozvidka (Aerial Reconnaissance) which is using surveillance and attack drones to target Russian tanks and positions. Amid internet and power outages, which are expected to get worse, Ukraine is turning to the newly available Starlink system for some of its communications. Drone teams in the field, sometimes in badly connected rural areas, are able to use Starlink to connect them to targeters and intelligence on their battlefield database.

They can direct the drones to drop anti-tank munitions, sometimes flying up silently to Russian forces at night as they sleep in their vehicles…

Should Ukraine’s internet largely collapse, the “drone warriors” of Aerorozvidka would still be able to communicate with their bases by sending signals from mobile Starlink terminals, and using ground stations in neighbouring countries including Poland.

As Ukraine’s internet is inevitably degraded, Starlink will be an alternative. General James Dickinson, commander of US Space Command, told the Senate armed services committee: “What we’re seeing with Elon Musk and the Starlink capabilities is really showing us what a megaconstellation, or a proliferated architecture, can provide in terms of redundancy and capability.”

It’s not all Starlink. The Telegraph points out that “The Ukrainian system benefitted from equipment given by Western countries, including radio communications which superceded Soviet-era technology, and the US has also poured in millions of dollars to protect against Russian hacking, jamming of signals and attempts to ‘spoof’ GPS technology.”

And meanwhile, weakness in Russia’s own communications infrastructure may have played a role in the killing of five senior Russian generals in the last three weeks, according to a recent CNN interview with retired U.S. army general and former CIA director David Petraeus:”The bottom line is that [Russia’s] command-and-control has broken down. Their communications have been jammed by the Ukranians.

Their secure comms didn’t work. They had to go single-channel. That’s jammable, and that’s exactly what the Ukranians have been doing to that. They used cellphones. The Ukranians blocked the prefix for Russia, so that didn’t work. Then they took down 3G. [The Russians] are literally stealing cellphones from Ukranian civilians to communicate among each other.

So what happens? The column gets stopped. An impatient general is sitting back there in his armored or whatever vehicle. He goes forward to find out what’s going on… And the Ukranians have very, very good snipers, and they’ve just been picking them off left and right

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