Why China feels threatened by Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites

Chinese scientists advise the government to put in place a plan to destroy the satellites of the Starlink constellation. They accuse Elon Musk of working for the US military.

The Internet everywhere and for everyone. The Starlink project indeed wants to connect the planet, even in the most remote places of the globe. For Elon Musk, the initiator of this project, Starlink’s vocation is humanist. For China, it is quite the opposite.

In a report titled “The Development of Starlink Status and Its Countermeasures,” Chinese experts suspect a military strategy. They advise the People’s Army to organize surveillance of the satellites and prepare to destroy them. According to them, Starlink would be an operation led by the Pentagon to carry out espionage operations, detection of ballistic and hypersonic missiles and even piloting of military drones. They are based on the relations between SpaceX, the operator of Starlink, and the American army.

The relationship between Elon Musk’s company and the military is not secret. As early as 2019, SpaceX obtained $28 million from the US Air Force to use Starlink satellites to test an encrypted communication system with military aircraft.

The threat of free Internet access

In 2020, the US Army signed a contract to test the Starlink network for three years. According to the website SpaceNews, which revealed this agreement, the project is piloted by the C5ISR Center of the Combat Capabilities Development Command based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. This partnership is part of the Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (Crada) program used by the army to assess the potential of civilian technology.

Another element worries China. In 2020, SpaceX also received a $149 million grant from the Department of Defense to develop four satellites to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles. This equipment is built at Starlink’s factory in Redmond, Washington. They should be delivered before the end of the year.

Are Beijing’s fears well founded? From a military point of view, not really unless China has belligerent intentions. According to David Cowhig, former American diplomat, translator of the Chinese article, the reason is quite different as reported by the site Air&Cosmos. Elon Musk’s constellation could create free access to the internet and jeopardize the control of networks that the Chinese government imposes on its population.

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