Elon Musk’s satellites being used to fuel war machine in Ukraine
Elon Musk, already known for his erratic stewardship of Tesla and Twitter, has been quietly but quickly expanding his empire into space. Starlink, a division of his SpaceX corporation, has a network of over 4,500 satellites in orbit, with plans to expand that number to 43,000. The war in Ukraine is already being planned over his network. | Map: SpaceX; Musk photo: AP

The more the U.S. pumps into the war in Ukraine and other military operations around the world, the richer the dangerous and erratic Elon Musk becomes. Already known for his erratic stewardship of Tesla and Twitter (rebranded as X), the billionaire has also been quietly—but rapidly—expanding his empire into space.

Perhaps nothing more than his personal control of over 4,500 low-orbit satellites (and plans to boost that number to 43,000) shows the folly of leaving high tech in the control of private capitalist hands.

Top Pentagon generals, along with high-level members of the Ukrainian military, have met with Musk recently to buy access to the internet capabilities offered by his satellite network. Called Starlink, the system is a division of another of Musk’s corporations, SpaceX.

The Ukrainian military has relied on the Musk satellites for its military attacks on Crimea, which has been back in Russian control since 2014. Under decisions made in the days of the Soviet Union, the region had been under Ukrainian administration since the 1950s.

According to a bombshell report in Friday’s New York Times, Musk, the richest man on Earth, has surpassed all world governments, including the United States, to become the dominant force in satellite internet technology. Even to capitalists committed to private control of industry, that fact should raise worldwide alarm.

Incredibly, the Times reports, on March 17, U.S. General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, General Valeriy Zaluzhni, the leader of Ukraine’s armed forces, and Elon Musk spoke on a secured line generated by Musk satellites where they made real-time decisions about military efforts against Russian forces in Ukraine and where they shared intelligence information gathered by the Musk satellites with one another.

So, Musk is adding to his wealth now by selling information to the U.S. and Ukraine which neither of those countries would have without him. There is almost no regulation or public control over the activity of a man who holds the fate of billions of people in his hands.

To make matters worse, top leaders in the Pentagon, in order to operate the war machine that costs U.S. taxpayers almost a trillion dollars a year, are conferring with him regularly over the war in Ukraine.

The 4,500 Starlink satellites in the sky are the sole source of internet and high-speed internet used for military purposes in Ukraine. Maps that show the location of these satellites over Ukraine at any given moment help confirm this, but they also reveal that the only part of the country not saturated with Starlink coverage since 2022 are the eastern parts under Russian control. Even in those regions, however, Starlink reaches much of the area and is increasing its coverage.

Musk’s saturation of space with his satellites is so extensive that it has already changed the appearance of the night sky all over the planet, something that has not happened for billions of years.

In the Ukraine war, Starlink is being used to coordinate drone strikes against the Russians in both Ukraine and also across the borders into Russia. Almost all intelligence gathering in Ukraine is coordinated through Starlink.

The U.S. military is now the world’s biggest customer of Starlink with the Japanese armed forces joining the ranks of Musk’s top clients. Musk, therefore, along with the Pentagon, has become a major enabler of politicians and industrialists in Japan who are shelving that country’s commitment to pacifism after World War II.

Musk’s power over what has become a deadly military instrument is total. He alone can shut down access to Starlink, whether that customer is a country or its military. He openly flaunts his power. “Between Tesla, Starlink, and Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” he has declared.

Members of the U.S. Air Force on the beach across from Patrick Space Force Base watch the launch of one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. It carried a Starlink satellite into orbit. | Tim Shortt / Florida Today via AP

When it comes to Ukraine, the news about Musk is downright frightening. “Starlink is indeed the blood of our entire communication structure now,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, said in an interview.

In the U.S., even government-controlled outfits like NASA are now relying almost entirely on SpaceX for their internet technology and ability to coordinate flight plans.

Nothing, however, demonstrates the power of Musk and SpaceX more than the war in Ukraine.

According to the Times, more than 42,000 Starlink terminals are now used by Ukraine’s military, businesses, and other institutions. “Without Starlink, we cannot fly, we cannot communicate,” one Ukrainian deputy commander told the Times. He gave only the name “Tooth.”

Starlink entered the Ukrainian market soon after the Russian invasion began in 2022, but now, just a year-and-a-half later, it exercises full control of communications in that country.

Another disturbing aspect of the Starlink situation is that while Musk profits off his role in the war in Ukraine, much of the cost of his operation is picked up by U.S. taxpayers, with the federal government being a major funder of the operations.

Once again, the dangers of private capitalist control of major industries and technology are exposed. A dystopian future for the planet itself is not out of the question if capitalism is not replaced with political and economic democracy and socialism.

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.