Senators press Pentagon on whether Musk used Starlink programme to thwart Ukrainian attack

Three senators who serve on the Committee on Armed Forces have sent a letter to the Department of Defence (DoD) expressing concern over allegations that Elon Musk controlled Ukrainian soldiers’ ability to access satellite communications via Starlink.

Democratic senators Jeanne Shaheen, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to provide clarification over an incident from last year in a letter sent on Friday.

The incident, laid out in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Mr Musk, claims that the billionaire tech entrepreneur stopped the Ukrainian armed forces from accessing satellite communications via Starlink near the Crimean Peninsula thus thwarting a potential assault on Russian ships.

Mr Musk clarified on X that he did not discontinue Starlink connectivity but refused a request by Ukraine to provide it there out of fear of escalating war.

The three senators said the “confusion over what actually happened” demands answers and expressed great concern about Mr Musk’s role in the incident.

“The reports raise serious concerns about whether Mr Musk has personally intervened to undermine a key US partner at a critical juncture,” the letter said.

Several officials, including the three senators, have shared similar worries that commercial satellite companies similar to Starlink could cause issues by intervening in significant decisions like this one.

Senator Jack Reed who serves as the chairman of the Committee on Armed Forces, said in a statement obtained by Bloomberg, that the situation with Mr Musk raised concerns about national security.

“Neither Elon Musk, nor any private citizen, can have the last word when it comes to US national security,” Mr Reed said.

“We’ve got to look at the broader satellite markets and the role of government outsourcing, the outsized role Mr Musk and his company have taken on here, and the Pentagon’s actions and contractual arrangements,” Mr Reed added.

Senate Armed Services Committee members (L-R) Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) (Getty Images)
Senate Armed Services Committee members (L-R) Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) (Getty Images)

At the time of the incident, Starlink had no contract with the Pentagon and therefore no directive from US officials. Mr Musk said had he received an order from President Joe Biden to extend services to Ukrainians in Crimea he would have done so.

In June, the Pentagon and Starlink signed a contract in which the DoD agreed to buy its services for Ukraine.

Now, the three senators are imploring leaders to consider the implications of Mr Musk’s actions and look to prevent situations like this from arising in the future.

“We are deeply concerned with the ability and willingness of SpaceX to interrupt their service at Mr Musk’s whim and for the purpose of handcuffing a sovereign country’s self-defense, effectively defending Russian interests,” the letter said.

The senators requested Mr Austin provide answers by the end of October.