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2 May, 2022 17:34

Private satellite firms helping Ukraine – WSJ

Companies are supplying intelligence to NATO, Kiev, and the media, the Wall Street Journal reported
Private satellite firms helping Ukraine – WSJ

A host of private companies have deployed spy satellites over Ukraine to track the movement of Russian forces from space, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. Some sell this data to Western governments and media outlets, while others send it directly to the government in Kiev. With the line between observation and participation blurred, many of the firms are keeping their work quiet.

When outlets such as the Journal publish aerial photos from Ukraine, they’re not relying on spy satellites operated by the US and its allies. Instead they’re paying private firms to do this surveillance work, with the newspaper reporting that it buys imagery directly from Maxar Technologies.

Maxar’s satellites, the report stated, can take photographs from space with a resolution down to 12 inches. However, such companies are not just deploying their satellites to help the Western media land scoops but are also supplying military intelligence to Ukraine and NATO allies, which is then being used by Kiev to target Russian forces.

According to the report, Planet Labs PBC and HawkEye 360 are tracking Russian troop movements, with the former relaying this information to the Pentagon. MDA, a space technology company, says it’s working with other companies to supply imagery to the Ukrainian government, while BlackSky Technology, which tracks radio signals, is reportedly supplying data to unnamed “customers.”

Although less sophisticated than the kind of satellites operated by state-level actors, some of these privately-operated eyes in the sky can see through clouds and function at night.

The Pentagon has not commented on the extent of its use of “commercial satellite imagery services,” but these services were funded as part of a package of military aid to Ukraine announced last month. Moreover, the US has openly admitted to sharing military intelligence with Ukraine, and reportedly expanded the scope of this sharing last month.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “many companies declined to be specific about how they are assisting Ukraine,” fearing that they could be seen as direct participants in the conflict. Even the White House previously held back on sharing “actionable information” with Kiev, “because that steps over the line to making us participating in the war,” Congressman Adam Smith (D-Washington), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said last month. 

However, some companies are open about their support for Ukraine. Satellogic, an Argentinian firm feeding data to Kiev, described its role as “helping the cause,” and has partnered with the Halifax International Security Forum to fundraise for more satellite surveillance for Ukraine.

The Russian government has not commented on Ukraine and the West’s use of private spy satellites in Ukraine. However, the Kremlin has taken a dim view of Western arms shipments to Ukraine, calling them “legitimate targets” and destroying several warehouses of them with missile strikes.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has described the West’s response to its operation in Ukraine as NATO “essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy,” while President Vladimir Putin has warned that any outside interference in the conflict that puts Russia’s security at risk would be met with a “swift, lightning-fast” response.