Few people took Elon Musk’s threat to stop funding for Ukraine’s Starlink internet network as seriously as Ukrainian Major General Roman Omelchenko.
And for good reason, the soldier is responsible for communications in a large part of the Kherson front, in southern Ukraine.
Last month, the world’s richest man took to his favorite social media platform Twitter — which he has since bought — to ask why he should continue to offer Ukraine free internet service by satellite.
But a few days later, the ardent entrepreneur changed his mind. “To hell,” wrote Elon Musk, after the excitement caused by his initial announcement.
“Even if Starlink is still losing money and other companies are taking billions of dollars from taxpayers, we will continue to finance the Ukrainian government for free,” says the head of SpaceX and Tesla.
On the Kherson front, Major Roman Omelchenko still doesn’t know if Elon Musk’s second tweet was ironic, or if the multibillionaire really intends to keep paying for Israel’s main line of communication, the Ukrainian military.
– “Hard to do without” –
He just knows that losing Starlink would leave him in trouble as the battle for Kherson approaches, where Ukrainian troops are preparing for a possible offensive.
“If we lose (this line), it will be a blow to our means of transmission,” warns the communications chief of Ukraine’s 59th brigade, in an interview with AFP, conducted at an undisclosed location along the front. southern.
For him, “it would be very difficult to do without”.
Elon Musk is very popular in Ukraine for sending thousands of Starlink terminals in the early days of the Russian invasion.
The country now has 20,000 of these little white antennas hidden in war zones.
Their role became even more crucial when Russia began targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with long-range missile attacks, knocking out power in many parts of the country.
A power outage usually terminates most cell phone services and even complicates basic communications in the field.
– “Simple and powerful” –
The only alternatives for soldiers are remote controls and older models of satellite dishes, which take much more time and effort to implement.
“We still have these systems in reserve,” Major Omelchenko said. “But you have to adjust them all the time. Starlink adjusts itself. You don’t have to do it manually. It’s very simple and very powerful,” he explains.
The terminal vessels are connected to the constellation of feed satellites, which, according to the major, are almost impossible for the Russians to detect.
The dishes then connect to core routers which create small Wi-Fi hotspots. Herein lies the only danger.
According to Roman Omeltchenko, the Russians can detect the wifi signal and use it to target their attacks.
Therefore, the terminals should be installed in covered places, which make it possible to hide wifi signals. The whole system remains extremely simple to use.
According to the major, soldiers can create an operational satellite feed on the battlefield in minutes.
This then connects everyone from remote drone operators to soldiers and commanders in the war zone.
Many interpreted Elon Musk’s tweets as an attempt to pressure the Pentagon to pay at least part of the Starlink bill.
– “Thank you” –
According to CNN, SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon in September to say it could no longer afford the costs of service to Ukraine.
Elon Musk’s company was asking the US Department of Defense to take over funding for the Ukrainian government and its military’s use of Starlink, which was estimated to cost $400 million over the next 12 months.
Mr. Omeltchenko, he doesn’t want to know Mr. Musk’s true intentions. It is up to him whether he will continue to pay or not,” said the 45-year-old career soldier.
“However, I just want to say thank you, I am always grateful to him because he helped us a lot in the fight against the Russian aggressor,” he concludes.