Strategic metals firepower for Pentagon
Defense bill includes policies to bolster secure supply chains Metal Tech News – December 14, 2020
Last updated 12/15/2020 at 2:44pm
The $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 passed by Congress last week instructs the Pentagon to secure domestic and allied sources of strategic minerals and metals.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the striking vulnerabilities and gaps in our domestic supply chains, and the need to invest in critical mineral manufacturing and processing has taken on a new urgency," said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who authored two amendments addressing the United States' dependence on China and other foreign countries for critical minerals and metals.
The defense funding act directs the Pentagon to:
• Secure sources of strategic minerals and metals by 2030 that will fully meet U.S. defense demands; eliminate the dependence on unsecure sources; and ensure that the U.S. military is not reliant upon unsecure sources for the processing or manufacturing of any strategic mineral and metal.
• Provide incentives for robust processing and manufacturing capabilities to refine strategic minerals and metals needed by the Department of Defense within the U.S.
• Maintain secure sources of supply of strategic minerals and metals required to maintain current military requirements in the event that international supply chains are disrupted.
The strategic materials covered by these provisions include all 35 minerals, metals, and groups of elements the U.S. Geological Survey deemed critical under Executive Order 13817, signed by President Trump in 2017.
According to data compiled by the USGS, during 2019 the U.S. depended on foreign countries for more than 50% of its supply of 31 of the minerals and metals deemed critical to the nation's economic wellbeing and security, including 100% import-reliant for 14 of them.
The list of mined commodities for which the U.S. is 100% dependent on foreign nations for its supply includes a long list minerals and metals needed for military hardware – rare earth elements, natural graphite, indium, manganese, niobium, and gallium are among these elements not produced on U.S. soil during 2019.
"The U.S. needs to place a new emphasis on home-shoring the production of these critical minerals, particularly in states, like Alaska, where these minerals are found in abundance," said Sen. Sullivan, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
Toward this goal, the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the Pentagon to expand existing programs such as the National Defense Stockpile and Title 3 of the Defense Production Act of 1950.
Strategic materials on the Defense Logistics Agency's planned National Defense Stockpile list for fiscal year 2021 include five rare earth elements, REE magnets, antimony, electrolytic manganese metal, samarium-cobalt alloy, and tantalum.
Title 3 of the Defense Production Act authorizes the Pentagon to incentivize the production and supply of critical materials with loans, loan guarantees, direct purchases and purchase commitments, as well as procuring and installing equipment in private industrial facilities.
In 2019, President Trump used presidential powers under this act to authorize the Pentagon to pursue the reestablishment of a mines-to-magnets rare earths supply chain in the U.S.
The National Defense Authorization Act formalizes and expands on this authority.
More information on the Trump administration's efforts to reestablish rare earths production in the U.S. can be read at The enigmatic rare earth elements paradox in the February 12 edition of Metal Tech News.
Ucore Rare Metals Inc. hailed the passage of the defense funding act as an important development that strengthens the prospects of developing a mine at its Bokan Mountain rare earths project in Southeast Alaska, as well as the company's nearer term plans to build the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex, a rare earths separation facility the company hopes to have online by 2023.
"Our planned Alaska SMC will be designed to produce the full complement of the magnetic rare earth oxides and we are highly encouraged by these emerging rare-earth market sector commercial opportunities and enhanced government support as we enter 2021." said Ucore Chairman Pat Ryan.
More information on Ucore's strategy for developing the Alaska SMC can be read at Ucore unveils Alaska2023 rare earths plan in the October 7 edition of Metal Tech News.
The defense funding bill for fiscal year 2021 was similarly applauded by NioCorp Developments Ltd., which is advancing the development of a mine at its Elk Creek project in Nebraska that would produce three superalloy metals considered critical to the U.S. – niobium, scandium, and titanium.
"While our Elk Creek project does not plan to initially produce high-purity niobium oxide materials, this initiative by Congress does shine a brighter light on the strategic importance of niobium in general. That is helpful to the Elk Creek Project, given that we intend to be the first to mine and process niobium in the U.S," said NioCorp Developments Executive Chairman Mark Smith.
Read more about recent Elk Creek developments at NioCorp eyes new niobium extraction tech in the September 30 edition of Metal Tech News.
The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, however, may be vetoed by Trump because it does not include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook from liability for content posted on their platforms.
Section 230 has come under scrutiny by many lawmakers because it protects internet companies from liability for censoring certain users and other manipulative practices.
Over the weekend, Trump reiterated his plans to veto Pentagon's defense funding and policy bill. A two-thirds vote from each chamber would be required to override the president's objections.
With the measure receiving more than 80% of the votes in each the House and Senate, it is believed the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act will easily survive a presidential veto.
Trump has until Dec. 23 to sign or veto the defense bill that includes policies and authorizes funding aimed at bolstering secure supplies of strategic minerals and metals for the U.S.