After tech mogul Elon Musk provided Ukraine with the use of his Starlink satellite system, the networking capabilities are reported to have given the defending forces an edge to their drone capabilities over the Russian forces.
Aerorozvidka (Aerial Reconnaissance), the Ukrainian drone unit, has been utilizing the redundant capabilities of the laptop accessible network to maintain intelligence gathering and strikes, The Telegraph reported. The mix of surveillance and attack functions are insulated from the ongoing power outages impacting the war torn nation and have therefore been a key tool since deployment at the end of February.
Prior to Musk’s involvement, the drones would find themselves in rural areas with spotty reception that could hinder operations. For that reason, Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov reached out to Musk for his assistance in the defense against Russia.
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
Now, more than three weeks since the initial activation of the network over the conflict, new shipments of Starlink stations continue to arrive in Ukraine and Musk launched and deployed another 53 satellites to add to the more than 2,000 currently in orbit roughly 340 miles above the Earth’s surface.
A new batch of Starlink stations! While Russia is blocking access to the Internet, Ukraine is becoming more open to the entire world. Ukraine is the truth. The truth always wins. Thank you, @elonmusk, the Government of Poland, and Orlen. pic.twitter.com/TP0kpn3rPS
— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) March 18, 2022
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 19, 2022
This “megaconstellation” of small satellites has allowed the Aerorzvidka, which began as a civilian reconnaissance outfit before being integrated into the military, to direct drones with anti-tank munitions to take out unsuspecting targets.
General James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command lauded the advancements from the private sector at a hearing with the Senate armed services committee. “What we’re seeing with Elon Musk and the Starlink capabilities is really showing us what a megaconstellation, or a proliferated architecture, can provide in terms of redundancy and capability.”
Director General Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos, the Russian equivalent to NASA, felt quite differently as a supporter of the Russian government and their invasion of Ukraine. “This is the West that we should never trust,” Rogizin said. “When Russia implements its highest national interests on the territory of Ukraine, Elon Musk appears with his Starlink which was previously declared as purely civilian.”
Rogozin further stated that he had warned about Musk, but those in aerospace fields throughout Russia consider the entrepreneur “the light of world cosmonautics” as though he can do no wrong. To those “muskophiles” Rogozin stated, “look, he has chosen the side.”
While Starlink has provided the certainty of network connections, along with civilian internet for the more than 100,000 downloads that have taken place since its launch in Ukraine, the drone unit relies on a “situational awareness” software in its “Delta” system that was developed in conjunction with Western advisers.
This software uses images from satellites, drones, and sensors to generate interactive maps for users to better track enemy movements. It is also protected from Russian hacking by input from U.S. contributions.
The successful use of this technology has President Biden’s administration considering sending kamikaze “Switchblade” drones in lieu of fighter jets as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continued calls for aid.
These drones are transportable by backpack and are relatively inexpensive for the impact they offer on the battlefield. The larger 600 model weighs 50 lbs, can maintain a hover for 40 minutes and strike at 115 mph. The smaller 300 model is only 5.5 lbs with a range of six miles and strike capability of 100 mph.
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