Russian military units in the embattled enclave of Avdiivka, Ukraine, have unleashed a new form of electronic warfare, targeting the Starlink satellite system crucial for Kyiv's battlefield communications.
Elon Musk's SpaceX provided the Starlink system to Ukraine, offering encrypted internet-based communication via a small low-power antenna connected to low-earth orbit satellites. However, Russian forces have escalated their tactics, jamming satellite signals and actively targeting and destroying the ground antennas used by Ukrainian forces, leading to a complete loss of internet access in Avdiivka.
The disruption significantly impacts the Ukrainian military's communication infrastructure, with the Starlink system playing a pivotal role in the Armed Forces' network-centric warfare approach. Targeting bunkers in Avdiivka, which act as control centers for Ukrainian troops, the Russian electronic warfare tactics have severed information contacts with front lines, Kyiv, and Western partners, leaving Ukrainian commanders without operational communication.
In response, Ukrainian forces must relocate communication centers beyond the reach of Russian electronic warfare systems, a process expected to take time. The Russian military's comprehensive approach includes physically destroying detected Starlink communication terminals, a tactic first tested in the Zaporizhzhia region.
The Russian Aerospace Forces escalated their efforts in Avdiivka, dropping around 50 aerial bombs on identified enemy bunkers on February 8. The fluid situation presents significant challenges for Ukrainian forces as they grapple with disrupted communication capabilities.
Russia using Starlink in occupied Ukrainian territories?
Surprisingly, reports now suggest that Starlink equipment is making its way into Russian units in occupied Ukrainian areas like Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia, despite Starlink not being officially accessible in Russia due to sanctions. News outlets citing Ukrainian journalists claim the equipment is available in Russian retailers, facilitated by purchases from companies in Dubai that activate and resell the systems. These dishes reportedly end up with Russian volunteer units in occupied Ukraine.
The importation of Starlink by Russian forces, though inactive within Russia, could violate U.S. sanctions, potentially implicating SpaceX and Elon Musk. The company, heavily dependent on U.S. government contracts, faces scrutiny for unintentional involvement in the conflict. Opposition forces in contested regions are reportedly leveraging Starlink, with authorized accounts arriving from Dubai and operating within territories they control.
The Ukrainian military reports slower internet speeds at the frontline, indicating potential issues with Starlink's functionality. Allegedly, Russian Armed Forces deployed electronic warfare systems in Avdiivka, causing a total internet blackout and significantly impacting Ukrainian troops' command and control. Ukrainian commanders now seek alternative communication methods beyond the reach of electronic warfare.
Moreover, the Russian military reportedly takes steps to physically eliminate discovered Starlink terminals, marking a large-scale application of electronic warfare against the system. This echoes previous successes in the Zaporizhzhia region, where bunkers housing Starlink terminals were eradicated in the Orekhov region.