WASHINGTON (Agencies): The Pentagon’s growing reliance on private sector innovation for advanced military technologies has paved the way for companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX to secure lucrative contracts, according to experts.
SpaceX has clinched its maiden contract from the US military to provide satellite communications through the Starshield system, an adaptation of the Starlink internet network. Elon Musk raised eyebrows at the Pentagon recently by refusing to allow Starlink to be used by the Ukrainian military in an operation related to Crimea.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., widely known as SpaceX, confirmed receiving a $70 million one-year contract from the US Space Force (USSF) at the start of the month to initiate work on Starshield. This development follows an agreement with the Pentagon in June to supply an undisclosed number of Starlink ground terminals for use in Ukraine. SpaceX has collaborated with Kiev to offer navigation and communications support to the Armed Forces of Ukraine since Russia’s special operation in early 2022. However, the company faced Western criticism for declining to provide service in Donbass or Crimea, territories now part of the Russian Federation, due to concerns about potential escalations resulting from a Ukrainian attack in these areas.
Michael Maloof, a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, remarked that the Starshield project naturally follows Musk’s increasing involvement with the US military. He emphasized that the military was impressed by the commercial version of Starlink for communication and data processing, which led to the development of Starshield for specific military and intelligence applications. This approach allows the Pentagon to rapidly access readily available commercial technology instead of undergoing extensive research and development processes. Furthermore, the Pentagon can customize these satellites, including encryption, to suit its needs.
Maloof also highlighted the exponential growth of space-related expenditures in the defense budget, asserting that space is currently the fastest-growing sector in military spending. He explained that this trend is driven by the evolving nature of warfare and the need to protect satellites. He anticipated that Musk’s association with the US military would inevitably expand following the Starshield contract.
As space capabilities continue to grow, countries like Russia and China are also investing in their space programs, making space technology and defense a critical arena for future strategic interests.