back to article Starlink, shot by both sides in Ukrainian fracas, lives to fight on

On October 7, Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front line reported outages on the Starlink satellite internet service. The outages were most notable in the southern Kherson region, where the most intense fighting was taking place. Starlink is used for force command and communication, as well as relaying drone video for …

  1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Can we have a discussion about Musk's claim it could cost $400M to support Starlink in Ukraine for the next 12 months? Supposedly Spacex sent 15,000 terminals, so how does supporting 15k terminals cost $400M?

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      There's a war going on. Any numbers given that might possibly be of military significance are subject to significant distortion to avoiding giving away information of tactical significance that the Russians might find useful.

      For instance, if you knew how many were being used in a civilian capacity to restore connectivity to mobile phone base stations (which the Russians will no doubt know as they deliberately try and take infrastructure offline) then you could then know how many were being used by the Ukrainian military for military purposes such as command, control and communications with military units then you could make guesses as to the size, composition and possibly the distribution of the opposing forces. So there might be 15k terminals in total, or that might be the number that Starlink gifted and there might be another 85k bought by somebody else.

      Ultimately Starlink is a civilian system run for profit which has virtually no users. Anti jamming development work against upset nation states probably doesn't come cheap so the prices given might represent Starlinks running costs divided by the number of Ukrainian users or might be what Musk would have liked billed a commercial customer for the amount of bandwidth used. (ie something along the lines of having 500MB included in the base contract price, and then paying $1 per kilobit used over this)

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      If it's for the military you can normally x10 the price. Sometimes even x100.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        We supply and support a bit of IT kit to the military. It has an expected life of at least 10 years and can't be replaced with similar models due to the custom built transport cases need to shipping it around the world such that there's very high chance it will still be in operable condition when it arrives at the remote base or war zone. That means we have spares and replacement units in a warehouse waiting for a fast turnaround as needed. That costs a lot. We aren't in the order of 100x cost but we are certainly in the region of 10x cost for the original supply cost compared to retail kit with maybe a 5 year working life. It's part of the support system for £multi-million offensive capability so everything has to work, work well, work the same so the people operating it don't have to learn new kit in battle conditions

        Our profits off the contract probably aren't all that much more than off a normal business/enterprise contract in percentage terms because the cost to us in operating the contract are so much higher. There are probably a lot of suppliers like us in that situation, but what makes headlines are the cost plus overruns on things like aircraft carriers and F-35 Lightnings :-)

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Sure, military procurement rules are pretty strict. But here the MoD is paying 2x for the terminals, without all those extra guarantees.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      If he's claiming it "cost" him X

      Then X should reflect his actual costs - cost to build the terminal, cost of employee time to handle logistics, cost of bandwidth backhaul from fixed ground stations, and not retail cost.

      We know the cost of the user terminals are heavily marked up. I have no idea how much employee time this is consuming and what the cost of bulk bandwidth is, but the real number is a clearly a fraction of what he claims.

      He wants to be reimbursed at full retail, and make a profit off the war. Now sure Raytheon and other defense companies aren't selling the US/EU weapons for Ukraine / replace what has been sent to Ukraine, but their shareholders know and have accepted they are war profiteers. Does Musk want to be lumped in the same category, or would he settle for having his cost reimbursed so he isn't making money but isn't losing money?

      He obviously did it for the PR benefit, both for Starlink and himself, shouldn't that be "profit" enough for him? I guess not.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

        Are you under the impression that when the US govt supplies weapons to a foreign country to defend itself, that an invoice for the full retail price doesn't follow?

        If they are supporting you, the weapons might come without you stumping up cash on the barrelhead, but the invoice is still due when you can pay. And the price is unlikely to be the kind of discount deal you could negotiate in peacetime.

        This is a very happy situation for the US that gets to sell its stockpiles of kit that is becoming obsolete or dated, for full price, before they have to pay to dispose of it. Then they can replace with new.

      2. BOFH in Training

        Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

        Weren't the terminals being sold for below cost, at least for the first gen terminals?

        I remember reading speculation that the actual cost per terminal was in the 1k-3k range (again that was the first gen terminals) when Starlink started providing service in the US.

        I don't know if the current gen of terminals are still being sold below cost to normal end users, and if the terminals in the warzone are modified to make them more tougher.

        I assume there are extra man power costs, in terms of support and cyber security, since they are presumably a high profile target for Russia now. And there is a risk that if Russia figures out a way to take out Starlink, it will also affect the regular paying consumers in other countries as well (so potential total lost of all revenue for a while till it gets sorted out, which may be hours to needing to redesign new sats / terminals and launching new sats / distributing new terminals).

        So it is hard to put a figure to this but Musk does not do himself any favours by tweeting crazy stuff. If he has concerns, he should be talking to the people in power in US, Ukraine, etc and see if something can be done about whatever risk Starlink is undertaking instead of tweeting publicly like a mindless idiot.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

          They are selling the terminals for $450 each today. No way that is below cost - there are similar flat satellite "dishes" for satellite TV reception available in the EU for $100. They aren't used too much because they are less efficient than a proper dish since the TV satellites are at fixed locations, but I guess not having to aim it is an advantage for some use cases (camping, bringing over to a friend's house to watch football, who knows...there's a big enough market they exist)

          Those EU "dishes" are one way not two way like Starlink but that shows that there's nothing magic about Starlink terminals. People in the US just think so because they are used to regular curved dishes that are a pain to aim so they think something that's flat and electronically steered to follow a moving target must cost thousands, or even that Musk invented that decades old technology.

          1. Aitor 1

            Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

            I am normally nice in my comments, but hay, you are clueless.

            An electronically steered bidirectional dish used to cost tens of thousands before starlink.

            1. adam 40 Silver badge

              Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

              Quite! And I heard Starlink ones cost $1500 or thereabouts. It's the Epson model, sell the kit cheap, and charge on the ink.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: If he's claiming it "cost" him X

                this was the cost more than one year ago, and based on Starlink declarations it is supposed to have dropped to $200-300 now.

                it could even be lower if they asked Foxconn to produce the dish in China...


    4. jmch Silver badge

      A) i would think It's not just the terminals, its also operational fees that need to cover the use of satellites and bandwidth.

      B) speculating here, but the terminals might be nonstandard ruggedized ones. Being in s war zone also means more maintenance and replacements required

      C) there's always a military premium on equipment costs. $400M isn't exactly chump change but for the US military budget, it's a tiny cost given the strategic importance

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lot of guesswork here, but based on what I've read, the costs of the comms equipment are a small slice of the pie, and the vast majority of the terminals deployed were donated by other nations anyway (Poland in particular has donated a lot). The bigger numbers come from the ongoing connectivity costs.

      As I understand it, Ukraine requested the lowest tier of service for their field-deployed starlink units, which normally costs ~$500 per month per unit, and Elon made a unilateral decision to give them the highest tier ($4500 per month) instead. Therefore I suspect the price tag quoted is mostly the cost of that act of largesse, and he's backed down because trying to get the US DoD to pay for that would not reflect well on him, nor endear him to the US government in general. That would not be a good strategy given that a large proportion of his wealth is flowing from subsidies granted by the US government.

    6. JohnG

      The standard Starlink offering costs about $500 for hardware and about $90 per month and is for static use only. The recently announced service for ships has hardware costs of about $10k and monthly fees of $5000 per month. Perhaps the service used by the Ukrainian military is closer to the ship/yacht service. There would be added costs for the security involved: Starlink would know the current location of every operational terminal and therefore, of every Ukrainian military vehicle equipped with Starlink. They would be passing live intelligence data - no doubt, including live targeting information for Russian forces.

  2. Oneman2Many

    Didn't mention the option that the backend systems are being hacked. Seeing as starlink knows where the terminals are it would be possible to selectively disable them selectively. In the list of possibility far more likely than Elon telling starlink to block Ukraine.

    1. John Sager

      I think that's less likely. Given the expertise, I would expect Starling's backend systems to be far more hardened than, say, the average NHS hospital. However they would be up against nation-state adversaries but also most likely with nation-state help and advice too.

    2. Shalghar

      I tried to find any relevant info about the hardware and of course i began on the company site

      As you only need a standard microwave motion detector with around 10mW to jam a standard satellite TV receiver 20 meters away, the total energy need not be much. Considering the usual power of targeting or artillery RADAR, jamming is quite possible as the distortion of the downward signals prevents a continuous data stream. Anyone who tried full or half duplex RF transmission of digital data (no, cramming your mobile on the old acoustic coupler wont do) knows about the multitude of interfering factors that can arise.

      Starlink claims that their antennae are self aligning, so you dont even need much of a signal interference, only enough that the antenna starts searching for the next legit signal stream. So all you need to do is keep the antennae searching often enough that a useable data stream cannot be established.

      Before coming up with software hacking ideas, look at how fragile the hardware is. I did not find any information wether there are battery/DC operated terminals so if those things are mains only, take the energy supply as additional attack vector into account.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The most unreliable component of Starlink is easy to identify.

    It's Elon Musk.

    I don't know if he spends time over breakfast deciding who he is going to insult today or what he's going to inflict his usually uninformed and misguided opinion on or if it is spontaneous, but he seems to be about as self interested and trustworthy as his big friend Donald Trump, just a tad better at avoiding bankruptcies. For now.

    All in my humble opinion, of course, but you won't catch me being part of his blind-to-the-facts fan club, that's for sure. I wouldn't trust him with a wet sheet of toilet paper.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    If anything deserves to be jammed here, it’s Elon Musk’s mouth.

    Great point, give the man a raise.

    1. Johan-Kristian Wold 1

      Re: If anything deserves to be jammed here, it’s Elon Musk’s mouth.

      Elon Musk is a smart guy, but he needs to figure out that if you find yourself in a hole, the first you need to do is putting away your shovel...

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: If anything deserves to be jammed here, it’s Elon Musk’s mouth.

        No one is saying he isn't intelligent. But that doesn't mean he doesn't do dumb things.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If anything deserves to be jammed here, it’s Elon Musk’s mouth.

          The biggests fallacies you can fall victim to are:

          1 - if you're smart in one area it doesn't mean it applies elsewhere unless proven

          2 - it is still possible someone else is smarter than you

          3 - being rich(er) does not equate to being smart(er)

          4 - drooling fans don't represent proof that you're smart either because (a) drooling and (b) money

          People who are REALLY smart know this. Judging by his behavior, Elon does not.

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: If anything deserves to be jammed here, it’s Elon Musk’s mouth.

          No one is saying he isn't intelligent

          I am.. [1]

          And let's not conflate intelligence with wisdom (aka common sense) - something he's notoriously short of, especially when he's been smoking.

          [1] Most of his success has been either as part of a group or when he's hired people that know what they are doing. What he is is driven - which takes a certain amount of self-blindness (and other-blindness) in order to run roughshod over people who get in his way..

  5. martinusher Silver badge

    The limits of commercial equipement

    When Starlink terminals were given to Ukraine it was back in the early days of the war and the impression given to us over here was that it was to support the civilian population because it was expected that they'd lose Internet connectivity. There was no mention of it being used by military units, especially in the front lines. It turned out to be a useful military communication system so naturally want to be paid for it just like all the weapons suppliers are being paid for their kit (there's no price tag on a HIMARS system, for example, but I suspect its not cheap).

    The kit that was donated might be ruggedized, using Ukraine as a beta test for suitability for battlefield communications, because the stuff sold locally seems quite delicate. I know a couple of people who have it for their recreational vehicles and 'flimsy' would be the way to describe it, it wouldn't survive a collision with a 60lb dog, much less any nearby munitions. Its also a little temperamental, its the sort of thing that takes a bit of fiddling with to get set up and running OK -- the antenna self-positions, for example, but it still likes to have a clear view of the sky.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: The limits of commercial equipement


      I don't know what news sources you follow, but the Ukrainians were talking about using Starlink for both military and government comms from the very beginning. For example it was their way to communicate with the defenders of Mariupol throughout the siege. But also Zelensky was using it from very early on so that he could wander round Kyiv and keep in contact while avoiding Russian special forces who'd been sent into Kyiv.

      As I understand it they now use it to broadcast drone video footage back to headquarters from the frontlines. Which I don't know if they initially planned, or if they started doing it because they could. That kind of capability has been available for a while, but I suspect only to the top tier militaries. And even in their case I suspect it's one thing doing it when you're after Osama bin Laden in peacetime, quite another expecting it to work at huge scale in a wartime environment with lots of electronic warfare going on.

      The Soviets, and then the Russians, have spent large amounts of time and money on having powerful electronic warfare capabilities. An area with NATO has often neglected. The US air force for example has regularly been forced to rely on the Navy for jamming support for air missions (the horror!). Presumably because the Navy expect a carrier air wing to be outnumbered and so requiring the force multiplier or electronic attack aircraft, and the air force expect to outnumber anyone they meet.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The limits of commercial equipement

      "there's no price tag on a HIMARS system, for example, but I suspect its not cheap"

      M142 launcher with ammo was ~$5m (2014), 1x M31 GMLRS missile is ~$100,000, 1x ATACMS long-range missile is ~$850,000.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The limits of commercial equipement

        Wow, you must have a different Argos catalogue.


        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: The limits of commercial equipement

          you must have a different Argos catalogue

          Yes - it's the *BIG* toys catalogue.

          Available only to Governments or multi-billionaires.

          1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

            Re: The limits of commercial equipement

            Also available in West-Virginia if you have the right (or far right) contacts.

            In France, for such kind of procurement method, they say it is "fallen from the truck"...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The limits of commercial equipement

              That would be "ze truck", surely?


            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: The limits of commercial equipement

              "Also available in West-Virginia if you have the right (or far right) contacts."

              In Russia, they call it getting something "on the left" (налево).

  6. DS999 Silver badge

    Musk is getting another benefit from providing service

    He's getting some free "black hat consulting services" from Putin, as attempts are made to jam Starlink devices, use them as homing beacons for drone attacks, and so forth. What is learned here will help Starlink become a more viable service offering to sell to governments around the world who aren't large enough to launch their own communication satellites, as well as dissidents and others fighting against their own government.

  7. jgarbo

    Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

    He might rethink Starlink's Ukraine services. Maybe the latest Russian military satellite launch will solve his problem. Fried Starlink + Coke to go...

    Criticize Zelensky's Nazis and you'll get on. When you're murdered, they post a "neutralized" notice. Oh, yeah the site's based in Langley, VA but the killers are Ukrainian.

    Roger Waters is there, too.

    1. BOFH in Training

      Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

      Fascinating, I didnt know there was such a list.

      If Musk is killed, regardless by Ukraine or Russia, you can bet that the next one taking over will have many thoughts on continuing to provide service to Ukraine, considering that it may increase that person security risk alot higher.

      It will not be in Ukraine's benefit if Musk is killed and Ukraine or some zealous Ukrainian people are fingered. Even other private donors will start to have concerns about being attacked if they start donating and later reduce / stop.

      So, in the end, it's stupid to add Musk to such a list, regardless it's official or not.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

        There probably isn't such a list.

        The source is Grayzone which is Russian government propaganda as it's run by Prigorzin - the same guy who runs the Wagner mercenary group. He's sued several media organisations for libel over that in the last few years to say he doesn't, but he pupblicly admitted it last week - as the same time as putting out those videos of him recruiting prisoners for the front lines in Ukraine.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

          There is a list of sorts... make of it what you will

          From a Rolling Stone interview with Roger Waters

          "There is a list maintained by a far-right Ukrainian organization that contains hundreds of thousands of enemies of Ukraine, from alleged members of the Wagner private military company to journalists accused of cooperating with puppet governments in the Donbas region. The site, which has been roundly internationally condemned — but not taken down by the Ukrainian government itself — claims not to be a kill list but rather “information for law enforcement authorities and special services.”

          1. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

            ...but when Darya Dugina was killed by the car bomb near Moscow her website entry was updated appropriately.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

          I am an idiot! Sorry. Grey zone is the Wagner news source. The Grayzone is a US site that seems to post lots of conspiracy bollocks.

          But it’s not my fault I got it wrong. I blame US Imperialism! Just like The Grayzone does for pretty much everything. If Americans spelt grey properly, with an e, as God intended then this wouldn’t have happened…

          Just had a quick look at it. Apparently they’ve a leaked document produced for British intelligence with lots of pretty pictures, but no hint of authorship, classification, department or even think tank. It looks like a shit think tank report, with all the piccies and bullet points, but no promotion of said think tank, copyright or footnotes. It’s an obvious and pisspoor fake, and searching for keywords in it only brings up Russia Today and a few other conspiracy nutter sites.

          I don’t believe the British government are involved directly in the Crimean bridge attack. Though we’ve been flying spy planes over the Black Sea all year, and giving Ukraine intel they’ve clearly been using for targeting purposes. Including arracks on Russian HQs that have killed many senior officers. A Russian pilot may have taken a potshot at one last week, though it may just have been a malfunction or mistake. Both governments are suspiciously quiet about it.

          If it turns out I’m wrong, and we did help, I’ll laugh my arse off and dance a happy jig. We’ve been publicly supporting Ukraine's navy and marines since 2014, which I suspect is where much of this "report" is copied and pasted from. So I wouldn’t rule it out. But the Ukrainian military are perfectly capable of managing things themselves. And screwing up Russia’s logistics is one of the fastest, and least bloody, routes to peace.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

      Stop pronouncing nonsense - it's embarrassing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

        Yes, here is really the wrong place to test propaganda effectivenes. Go and get your arguments elsewhere.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

      I find it interesting that someone who is accusing Ukraine of hosting Nazis avails himself so readily of what is in essence a replay of the German v1 bombs.

      (and yes, I know it is only propaganda for the weak of brain)

    4. Triggerfish

      Re: Now Elon's on the Nazi Kill List...

      These peeps are reporting it?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "There are tensions aplenty – see the mid-October spat about who pays for what, where Musk said he was being short-changed by the Pentagon, then appeared shrugged it off the next day."

    It seems safe to presume someone at pentagon phoned this idiot and served him a supreme load of shit about this and what's gonna happen if he pulls the plug !

    Musky indeed needs to be silenced from da Net ...

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