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Shaheen, Warren, Duckworth, Kaine and Peters Send Letter to Secretary Austin Requesting Information about Defense Contracts with Commercial Providers Following the Reported Starlink Incident in Ukraine

Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gary Peters (D-MI), members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to request information regarding the reported incident that Elon Musk restricted the use of Starlink satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals used by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) in southern Ukraine in 2022. The Senators are looking to gain insight into how the Department of Defense (DoD) puts together and enforces the terms and conditions for commercial services contracts to help inform and protect against another incident like the one reported in the press.

In part, the Senators wrote: “The confusion over what actually happened during this Ukrainian attack—and Mr. Musk’s specific role—demands answers. SpaceX is a prime contractor and a critical industry partner for the DoD and the recipient of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding. It poses grave national security risks if DoD contractors are able to independently act to abrogate their provision of services. 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 Senators are requesting the Department of Defense provide details of any incidents involving Starlink or other commercial services provided to Ukraine being unilaterally disabled or restricted. Additionally, they are requesting the terms and conditions of these types of defense service contracts to ensure there are protections against any provider unilaterally impeding or altering service. Lastly, they are asking what the Defense Department is doing to develop redundant capabilities to ensure access to critical services during times of crisis.

Full text of the letter can be found here.

Given the serious implications to our national security, the Senators requested answers from the DoD by October 31, 2023.