A new Pentagon report to Congress puts the spotlight on the U.S. military's critical dependence on materials known as rare-earth metals and recommends alternatives to Chinese sources of supply.
The report, an annual assessment of the health of the U.S. military's manufacturing base, features a section that focuses on a potential Achilles' heel for the U.S. military: its reliance on rare-earth metals for manufacturing high-end weaponry.
At issue is a group of 17 elements with unique magnetic properties that are vital to 21st-century consumer technology, found in everything from smartphones to hybrid car batteries.
The elements are also essential to modern warfare. High-end weapons such as precision-guided bombs and advanced fighter aircraft depend on components built with rare-earth magnets, as do night-vision goggles and targeting lasers.
China produces more than 95% of the world's rare-earth oxides, and the country's near-monopoly in mining and processing them has raised alarms in Washington, particularly following Beijing's moves last year to impose export quotas on them.
'It is essential that a stable non-Chinese source of REO [rare earth oxides] be established so that the U.S. RE supply chain is no longer solely dependent on China's RE exports,' the report, made public Tuesday, states.
Last year, the Defense Department launched a comprehensive study to examine the potential national-security vulnerabilities of U.S. rare-earth material dependency. That study hasn't been released to the public. But this latest report shows that the Pentagon has launched an effort to identify U.S. companies that could process rare-earth oxides into metals. It also says defense agencies have studied the risk of potential supply disruptions