WASHINGTON — Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) plans to launch an investigation into SpaceX’s actions in Ukraine following new reports that Elon Musk blocked Ukrainian forces’ access to Starlink internet services.
The SASC said in a statement Sept. 14 that Reed decided to take this action “following public reports about the use of the Starlink system in Ukraine.”
The topic of Starlink’s crucial role in Ukraine was discussed in March at a SASC military space hearing, where Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) criticized SpaceX for the “discontinuation of full services at such a critical time for Ukraine’s self defense.”
The debate has been reignited with the recent release of a new Musk biography by Walter Isaacson who recounted how SpaceX’s boss thwarted Ukrainian forces by shutting off Starlink’s satellite network over Crimea — a territory occupied by Russia that Ukraine was fighting to reclaim.
Warren calls for DoD review
Another SASC member, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) earlier this week also called for an investigation into the Starlink matter and a Defense Department review of its contractual relationship with SpaceX.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters this week that he was not familiar with the terms of SpaceX’s agreement with Ukraine but noted that any company that signs a contract with DoD, including one run by a powerful billionaire, would be expected to comply with the terms of that contract.
Reed in the statement Sept. 14 said “serious national security liability issues have been exposed and the committee is engaged on this issue.”
SpaceX initially provided Starlink services in Ukraine at its own expense and through an agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Most recently the Pentagon said SpaceX received a Defense Department contract to provide Starlink services in Ukraine but did not provide details.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in February said Ukraine used Starlink services for applications that SpaceX did not support. “It was never intended to be weaponized, but the Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she said.
Musk’s ‘outsize role’
Reed pointed out that SpaceX has helped advance U.S. interests in space by lowering the cost of launch, including national security launches. However, “neither Elon Musk, nor any private citizen, can have the last word when it comes to U.S. national security,” he said in the statement.
“We’ve got to look at the broader satellite markets and the role of government outsourcing, the outsize role Mr. Musk and his company have taken on here, and the Pentagon’s actions and contractual arrangements,” he added.
The SASC, said Reed, “is aggressively probing this issue from every angle and will continue to engage with the Department to ensure U.S. national security interests are protected.”