SpaceX's Starlink has been praised for providing internet service to Ukraine amid Russia's aggression.
The US Air Force is now awarding Starlink a contract for satellite internet in Europe and Africa.
Starlink's success in Ukraine has drawn attention from militaries around the world, including China.
After months of praise for Starlink and its role in keeping Ukrainians online amid Russia's ongoing aggression, the US Air Force is making plans to work with the satellite internet company to support its operations in Europe and Africa.
In an announcement published this month, the service said that US Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa would purchase service from Starlink, which is operated by SpaceX, to support the 86th Airlift Wing based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The 12-month, $1.92 million contract was awarded in late July and is set to begin sometime between August and July 2023. It is meant as "an interim solution" until a broader agreement is reached. Politico first reported on the contract after it was announced on August 4.
The intent "is to provide either First-Generation or High-Performance satellite terminals and internet service either static/fixed site or portable/mobile to the terminals enabling users to connect devices to the internet," the Air Force said in a justification document for the sole-source contract.
Starlink is the only commercial company that can provide low-earth orbit satellite communications in both Europe and Africa, the document says, referring to Starlink as having "the most well-established LEO satellite network with more than 1,350 satellites" while its competitors "are still in their infancy."
Starlink is also the only such network currently being used in "a contested environment," the document says, referring to Ukraine.
The Air Force Research Laboratory has found that in contested environments, low-earth orbit satellite constellations "are much more resilient to signal jamming and also provide the low latency required to support tactical missions," according to the document, which notes that the Air Force is pursuing several efforts that could require support for tactical missions in contested environments — including agile combat employment.
"The communication requirements within and around eastern European areas in support of Ukraine operations expands daily," the document says. "Starlink LEO fulfills the requirement of reducing processing times and increases theater-based operations on changing requirements and locations."
"After extensive research it was found that SpaceX-Starlink is the only vendor able to provide this specialized communication service in the current areas of operation in the required time," the document adds.
Ukraine's internet and communications networks were attacked in the hours before Russia launched its offensive on February 24 and have been targeted throughout the conflict. Shortly after Moscow began its attack, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said Starlink had been activated in Ukraine in response to requests from Ukrainian officials.
Brig. Gen. Steve Butow, director of the space portfolio at the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit, said the satellite network has had a strategic impact, telling Politico that it had "totally destroyed" Russia's information campaign. (SpaceX has received a number of contracts from the US military.)
US Air Force officials began researching commercial low-earth-orbit internet service in Europe and Africa in June 2021. While Starlink was found to be the only current provider in both regions, other firms, namely Amazon, OneWeb, and Telesat, "are all expected to provide" service there "in the next few years," the justification document says.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, who retired this month after three years as head of US Africa Command, said at a Defense Writers Group event in July that he had seen how Starlink was being used in Ukraine and was "intrigued by it."
"I've asked my staff, 'Hey, can we use that capability and if so tell me how,'" Townsend said when asked if a service like Starlink could be useful for militaries in Africa. "I don't have the answer back yet, so I don't know, but I've asked the same question you just asked."
Starlink's effectiveness in Ukraine has also attracted attention in China, where researchers wrote this spring that the Chinese military should develop capabilities to interfere with or destroy Starlink satellites in the event of a conflict.
Read the original article on Business Insider