Another wave of hype around Starlink in Ukraine arose after a recent NYT article on the global risks associated with the dominance of Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the market of space launches and satellite Internet in particular, as well as the report of the chief sergeant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Robert Brovdi with the call sign “Magyar”.
The founder of the aerial reconnaissance unit “Birds of Madyar” and the platoon commander of the second assault company at the 28th OMBr aside touched on a very sensitive topic regarding the possible suppression of the work of Starlink satellites “at zero” by enemy Russian EW means – the moment on the video starts at 8:20 . “Magyar”, citing its own verified sources, announced that it had been received by the Russian military for testingsome experimental means designed to suppress the Starlink front line, which the Ukrainian military actively uses to perform various operations and tasks. These are the so-called “trench jammers”, which, according to “Magyar”, at a distance of 2 to 4 km will try to create problems for the operation of Starlink directly on the collision line. What is important is that “Magyar” only warned about the potential risks, and a number of Ukrainian mass media in pursuit of sensations have already published headlines about the successful use of such Russian jammers against Starlink – but there is no evidence of this yet .
And what is known for sure?
It is known that the Russians have been trying to jam Starlink for a long time and tediously, but they have not even partially succeeded – Starlink technology has unparalleled adaptability, and SpaceX engineers have repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of such an approach, which allows you to change parameters on the fly to get out of the influence of EW ( as you know, EWs are aimed specifically at receivers), as soon as this influence becomes obvious – at one time the Pentagon assessed how SpaceX programmers with a few lines of code nullified all attempts by the Russians to jam Starlink in Ukraine. Volodymyr Stepanets, head of the People’s Starlink group, which deals with the supply, repair and integration of Starlink in the Armed Forces, reminds us of this in a recent publication. He emphasizes that”there were no effective means of hindering the work of Starlink in Mordor, and there are none.”
Another well-known military communications specialist Serhii “Flash” agrees with him – it is his recommendations that “Magyar” mentions in the video as an additional protection against the potential influence of enemy EW.
The laws of physics are inexorable: it will not work to jam Starlink, as the Russians jammed signals from Ukrainian TV studios on the Amos and Sirius satellites in 2014, or Viasat before the invasion began – there are a lot of SpaceX satellites (over 4,500, which is more than 50% all active satellites). In addition, the technology itself has a completely different level of protection.
Previously, Serhiy “Flash” reported on the intercepted directive of the EW unit of the Russian Federation from the command regarding the potential sensitivity of GPS in the Starlink “dish” to EW equipment – in case of suppression of the GPS signal, the Starlink terminal cannot register or even after registration it loses speed until the channel completely disappears (the reason for the failure not in determining the location of the terminal position, but in the loss of synchronization that comes from GPS). But such a hypothetical scenario requires very specific conditions — installing a EW at a height (on an elevator or a cell phone tower) to interfere with Starlink receiving signals from satellites at a very high angle from above. According to “Flash”, this option works literally 500 meters away, and the EW itself becomes an easy target. A EW system for this range requires a specific and visible antenna.
As has been repeatedly reported, the war is a mirror, so the enemy also learns and constantly adapts – currently there is no global threat, but fighters “at ground zero” should be aware of possible risks. Once again to be clear: there is no confirmation yet of even the existence of specific EWs for Starlink, let alone their effectiveness.
Contraindications and recommendations
Taking into account the above, there are several measures proposed by experts to counter Starlink trench jammers, which may appear in the future:
- the easiest way is to dig the Starlink terminals half a meter below the ground level (the hole should be wider so as not to limit the viewing angle of the “dish”);
- protective “Faraday cage” around – any metal mesh with a cell less than 5-7 centimeters, it is desirable to ground it;
- specific hardware modifications as needed.
Even more important is the communication between the soldiers on the front lines and the higher command in the headquarters.Without exception, all potential cases of hostile Starlink interference by hostile EW must be addressed and processed. As Volodymyr Stepanets points out, in the Armed Forces of Ukraine this is the Starlink Support Service (MOSI 33 or 66 – such an application requires authorization, so a serviceman with access to MOSI must be contacted). In other structures of the Defense Forces of Ukraine, there are also corresponding structures, on duty, etc. The incident should contain terminal identifiers and time coordinates of the problems (what happened and when). It is advisable to provide all the details — Debug Data, screenshots and as detailed a description as possible. And finally, it is better not to bring such incidents to the social network for public discussion, so that the enemy will remain in absolute ignorance for their own good