General of the Space Force: Commercial satellite internet in Ukraine showing the power of megaconstellations

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A lesson from the war in Ukraine is the resilience provided by proliferating large constellations, Gen. David Thompson said.

WASHINGTON — During a May 11 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked Space Force officials if any lessons could be learned from the war in Ukraine about the role of commercial satellites in armed conflicts.

One lesson is the resilience provided by large proliferating constellations, said General David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the US Space Force.

Russia, in a cyberattack in February, managed to disrupt satellite communication services provided by a Viasat satellite. But SpaceX’s broadband constellation, Starlink, has continued to provide internet service in Ukraine despite attempts to disrupt it. Aaccording to Elon Muskthe Starlink network “has resisted Russian cyber warfare jamming and hacking attempts so far, but they are stepping up their efforts.”

During a SASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing, Cotton noted that most people expected Ukraine’s communications or internet access would be cut off in the first days or hours of the war, “but that didn’t happen, and it still hasn’t happened,” he said. he stated, and one of the reasons for this is the availability of satellite internet. .

“What lessons have we learned about what we can do if we ever have to face a similar conflict with Russia and China, and they try to deny us that?” he asked Thompson, who testified at the hearing alongside Frank Calvelli, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Space Acquisition and Integration; and John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, cyber defense and missile defense.

In the case of Ukraine, Russia would have liked to prevent the Ukrainians from using space capabilities, but their inability to do so is “a reflection of these proliferating new architectures which are very difficult to deny as a whole”, said Thompson said.

“You can maybe deny some of it, but you can’t eliminate the ability wholesale,” he said.

The capability demonstrated by commercial satcom in low Earth orbit in Ukraine validates the Space Force strategy of using a distributed architecture for space communications and data relay, Thompson said, “not only bringing commercial capabilities, but absolutely this proliferated architecture that makes a network very difficult to defeat,” he added. “That’s another piece of what I think we’re learning.”

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