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Lawmakers Call on DOD to Address U.S. Military Dependence on Rare Earth Minerals

Addressing a little known but growing national security concern in our national mineral supply chain, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) called on the Department of Defense to catalogue their dependency on rare earth minerals and high performance magnets used in weapons systems. The primary source of the current mineral supply is China.  As a result of China’s own increasing reliance and consumption of rare earths, China has recently decreased export quotas.

In a letter sent today to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Members of Congress identify the lack of long-term supply agreements, an insufficient domestic supply chain and a dependency on foreign manufacturing of rare earth minerals as a risk to critical American weapons systems and America’s national security interests. Rare earth minerals are also vital to many clean energy technologies, including hybrid cars and wind turbines.

“America and Alaska are home to the strongest military and the most advanced weapons systems in the world,” Sen. Begich said. “Solely relying on foreign countries for vital military components when domestic sources exist is a shortsighted policy that risks our national security and constrains our armed forces.”

“It has become clear that the United States can no longer depend on China to meet our needs for rare earth metals that are so crucial to our economic and national security,” Rep. Coffman said. “The Department of Defense needs to recognize this threat and take the appropriate steps now to avoid a crisis.”

The letter calls on the Department of Defense (DOD) to require contractors to detail the rare earth minerals and components within their weapons systems. Identifying the source of minerals would allow DOD to propose solution on the availability of rare earth minerals in an upcoming report due to Congress.

Rare earth minerals and high performance magnets are necessary components in precision weapons. In the American manufactured joint direct attack munition, high performance magnets are sourced from China and the letter identifies that “there exists no alternative supply domestically or within allied nations.”

Recoverable deposits of rare earth minerals have been identified in Southeast Alaska and portions of the continental United States.

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