Australia Could Play Bigger Role In Supplying U.S. Military With Rare Earth Minerals
WASHINGTON – With trade tensions between U.S. and China still on a high boil, Australia stands poised to become the Defense Department’s primary supplier of Rare Earth metals, a department official said Monday.
Rare Earth metals are a collection of 17 minerals used in everything from magnets and batteries to cell phones and fighter jets, and satellites to high-tech guidance systems.
Currently, nearly all of the world’s supply — roughly 85% — is produced by state owned enterprises in China, which has threatened to withhold them.
As a result, “we’ve been focused on Rare Earths for quite some time,” said Ellen M. Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, during a briefing with reporters on Monday.
“We’re concerned about any fragility in the supply chain, and especially where an adversary controls the supply,” she said.
The only other significant source of Rare Earth metals is mined in Western Australia, located about 620 miles northeast of Perth, which produces about 15 percent of the global supply.
Lord said when it comes to Rare Earth metals, “the challenge is really the processing of them and having facilities to do that.”
And while China does indeed have significant mines within its borders, the reality is its great strength in the market is based on its mining Rare Earth metals elsewhere and bringing them back to China for processing.
“So we are looking at a variety of mechanisms to stand up processing facilities,” Lord said. “And one of the highest potential avenues, I think, is to work with Australia.”
In fact, mining industry analysts have long said that if Australia could grow its production of Rare Earth metals, it could attract significant investment from the U.S. and others looking for a safe and secure supplier.
Lord said she visited Australia this summer and had extensive discussions about whether or not the U.S. and Australia could work together on a Rare Earth metals processing facility “that would not only take care of our DoD needs, but a variety of other international needs as well.”
Australia’s Northern Minerals opened a pilot processing plan last year and began shipments from it in September 2018.
It hopes to someday be a significant global supplier of dysprosium, which is used by electric vehicle makers in the manufacturing of industrial magnets that are used in electric engines., and can also be found in wind turbines and other large industrial engines.
The research and development phase for the pilot plant began in June 2018 and is expected to take up to three years.
Lord didn’t say whether she actually visited the plant while in Australia, telling reporters only “a variety of avenues were pursued.”
In The News
WASHINGTON — The United States has made “no decision whatsoever” to pull troops out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday after a Defense Department memo to an Iraqi military official surfaced discussing moving U.S. forces. The comments came one day after Iraq’s parliament voted... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon made plans Monday to send an additional 2,500 U.S. Marines to the Middle East, the latest fallout from President Donald Trump’s order to kill a powerful Iranian general last week, but one that could increase the risk of the kind of grinding... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon should temporarily suspend training for foreign fighters after a Saudi air force officer shot and killed trainees last week at a U.S. base in Florida, two Republican lawmakers said. A top U.S. official said the attack might be terrorism. “We should pause... Read More
WASHINGTON - A high-ranking Defense Department official acknowledged during a Senate hearing Thursday that the U.S. government is considering sending more troops to the Middle East to counter an Iranian military buildup. “We’re concerned about the threat stream we’re seeing,” said John C. Rood, undersecretary of... Read More
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Mark Esper had a stark warning for attendees at a major U.S. Air Force conference Wednesday morning, telling them "great power competition has once again returned to the global stage" and as a result, "we must change course ... and face the... Read More
WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. military installations contaminated with potentially cancer-causing chemical compounds found in firefighting foam is expected to rise as a Defense Department task force continues to assess the problem, the Pentagon said last week. During a roundtable with reporters, Assistant Secretary of... Read More