America's military highly dependent on China-controlled minerals
The fact remains that the United States and its allies do not produce nearly enough minerals to maintain a military technological edge for decades to come.
Allied forces across Europe faced fuel shortages back in 1944, leading to George Patton's famous words, “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas;" a quote that highlights the significance of fuel in military operations.
As such, supply chains win wars and save lives. For the United States today, these materials include more resources than fuel for tanks. Minerals are important to build and maintain modern weapons systems. The United States and other major world powers are alarmingly dependent on other countries, mostly China, for these materials.
China's quick buildup of its sophisticated military made it America's most consequential strategic competitor.
The war in Ukraine demonstrated the importance of not relying on one country. The war created the most serious energy crisis since the 1970s, forcing Europe to spend billions of euros on seeking alternate suppliers amid the inflation and astronomical energy prices.
The importance of obtaining critical minerals
Lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and many other minerals are critical when building electric car batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, and other clean energy technologies. The war in Ukraine shed the light on the availabilities of these minerals.
A steady and secure supply of critical minerals is essential for the US if it wishes to maintain its role as a military superpower. The fact remains that the United States and its allies do not produce nearly enough minerals to maintain a military technological edge for decades to come.
The field of science and advanced weaponry, a field that the US is a leader in, requires abundant minerals and metals.
Despite the fact that the US is not engaged in direct conflict, the war in Ukraine has depleted US stocks of some types of ammunition. The US Army asked Congress for $500 million a year to upgrade ammunition plants as developing advanced weaponry requires critical minerals and huge supply chains.
Semiconductors are crucial to building components of missile guidance systems, cyber warfare, and artificial intelligence capabilities, where gallium, arsenic, and neon are used; these materials are mostly produced in Russia, China, and Ukraine. Since the United States does not produce gallium, the war in Ukraine halved the world's supply of semiconductor-grade neon.
The US geological survey
The US Geological Survey keeps a list of minerals that are critical to the US national security, and economic, infrastructure, and energy needs. In 2020, the list grew to 50 minerals when it had been 35 back in 2018.
Some of these minerals include titanium for aeroscope components and high-temperature superalloys for turbines and hypersonic missiles, ceramic matrix composites, and hypersonic thermal protection systems.
Lanthanum, used for night vision goggles, was also on the list. So was Beryllium, which is used for targeting and surveillance systems for fighter jets.
Neodymium and samarium are used for powerful magnets which can handle very high temperatures. Germanium is used for infrared devices and military satellites' solar panels.
As for Niobium, it is used in the superalloy which makes up jet engines.
Other critical minerals used for the sonar, radar, and surveillance systems for the US military's first line of defense were found.
Sourced from China
Most of these minerals are sourced primarily from China. In addition to that, after being mined, these minerals require refining and processing along an international value chain. Even though China mined less than 20% of the world's total supply of lithium, it still controlled more than 60% of its refining and production capacity.
Graphite is another key mineral used in the production of electric vehicle batteries. China currently controls 100% of the refining and production of spherical graphite used for battery production.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)
The DLA lists more than 50 materials on its website alongside their key military uses. It conducts strategic sales every year based on future needs, excluding the massive needs of the Pentagon's main defense contractors.
With a market value exceeding $1.5 billion, the DLA had an emergency stockpile of 47 commodities. This stockpile was founded following World War 1 when American scientists aimed at educating industrialists on the importance of having a national mineral plan.
Congress authorized $1 billion for the National Defense Stockpile last fall to acquire strategic and critical materials in order to create additional buffer stocks in case of a crisis. The appropriation for the fiscal year 2023 only included $93.5 million for the stockpile with almost $373 million for mineral purchases under the Defense Production Act.
The Pentagon pushed to strengthen domestic production of critical minerals over the past few years; a framework was pursued under the 2019 use of the Defense Production Act, which was expended under the Biden administration.
In order to overcome regulatory and legal hurdles, officials, regulators, and environmental groups are to work together.
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