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Pentagon raves about Elon Musk’s Starlink defeating Russian attacks

Elon Musk. (Suzanne Cordeiro/For the Austin American-Statesman/TNS)
May 05, 2022

The U.S. Department of Defense has given rave reviews of billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service and the effectiveness it has already shown in defeating Russian electronic warfare attacks in Ukraine.

Dave Tremper, the director of electronic warfare for the Pentagon’s acquisition office noted how Starlink quickly shut down a Russian jamming effort just one day after it was detected. Temper said Musk’s satellite-internet service simply inserted a new line of code, “and suddenly that [Russian jamming attack] was not effective anymore.”

In comments reported by Defense News on Apr. 20, Temper said the way Starlink counteracted the electronic attack “is fantastic … and how they did that was eye-watering to me.”

Temper was so impressed by the way Starlink handled the attack, he called for the Pentagon to attain those same capabilities. He said the U.S. military is not currently able to make “those types of corrections” quickly and instead said it typically requires a “significant timeline” for such action from the government.

“The way that Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that ability,” Temper said. “We have to be able to change our electromagnetic posture, to be able to change very dynamically what we’re trying to do without losing capability along the way.”

Brig. Gen. Tad Clark, the director of the Air Force’s electromagnetic spectrum superiority directorate, predicted future conflicts will increasingly include electronic and electromagnetic warfare. As such, Clark said the U.S. needs to be thinking more innovatively about how to respond to such attacks. Clark said upgrading old systems won’t be enough when it comes to electromagnetic warfare. The U.S., he said, needs to create faster and more resilient systems.

Clark pointed to the Air Force’s in-development EC-37B Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft will serve as a key example of how the service can improve its electronic warfare capabilities. The new aircraft will reportedly have increased capabilities to allow software coders and engineers working from the ground to assist the aircraft’s operators in devising creative ways to jam enemy signals.

The electronic attack came within weeks of Musk activating the satellite internet service to help Ukraine withstand the ongoing Russian invasion. While the attack gave Starlink an early chance to showcase its adaptability under pressure, Temper indicated he was underwhelmed by the Russian military’s electronic attack capabilities.

“I think we expected a much stronger EW presence,” Tremper said, according to Breaking Defense. “Which isn’t to say that it’s not there, but I think the degree of coordination and synchronization of these types of operations is such that the undertrained operator will have a hard time pulling off those types of events successfully.”

Temper noted electronic warfare attacks can be difficult to pull off successfully and requires well-trained operators.

“The degree of coordination and synchronization of these types of operations is such that the undertrained operator will have a harder time pulling off those types of events successfully,” Temper said.