Chinese military 'planning to destroy' Elon Musk's Starlink satellites

Starlink, Elon Musk's satellite internet service, has already proven its worth in combat.

Ukraine's vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Musk to send extra Starlink satellites to the country shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February to protect the country's communication networks.

"All essential infrastructure [in Ukraine] now uses Starlink," according to Fedorov.

However, if SpaceX's Starlink satellite system can give one side in a battle a tactical edge, the same satellite system offers a threat to the other. At least in China, military planners have begun to devise strategies to counter the danger.

According to an article published last month in China's peer-reviewed journal Modern Defence Technology, "a combination of soft and hard kill measures should be developed to make some Starlink satellites lose their capability and destroy the constellation's operating system."

A typical wartime technique is to disable an enemy's communication networks. That goal might be realized in the internet era by destroying the infrastructure that makes telecommunications possible, such as relay stations and undersea cables.

Starlink, on the other hand, is more difficult to disable. Although some ground-based infrastructure is used, the heart of Starlink's connectivity is provided by a "constellation" of tiny satellites whizzing around Earth's low orbit—over 2,300 of them thus far.

"The Starlink constellation is a decentralized system," says the narrator. The conflict is about the entire system, not individual satellites. This necessitates some low-cost, high-efficiency techniques, according to the study.

Microwave jammers, which either disable a satellite's communication functions or fry onboard equipment; targeted lasers, which can interfere with a satellite's sensors; and ballistic missiles, which simply destroy the module with an explosion, are all methods China has developed to disable satellites.

However, those strategies may be inadequate for dealing with the scale of Starlink's constellation. Starlink wants to grow its network to over 40,000 satellites, which is much too many to target individually.

The relay stations on Earth, which receive and broadcast signals from the satellite constellation, are the weak spot in Starlink's infrastructure, but removing them could lead to an unintended escalation in a war. For example, the relay station that delivers Starlink coverage to Ukraine is most likely in Poland, which is outside the current conflict zone.

China's greatest chance of countering Starlink's capabilities may be to construct a rival network. Yes, it is. China declared in 2020 that it would build a network of at least 10,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit, dubbed StarNet.

In the coming years, expect the night skies to become even more populated.

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