Congress wants to double rare earth minerals fund to free up defense supply chain from China

WASHINGTON — Congress is seeking to more than double the net worth of the nation’s stockpile of strategic minerals to reduce the defense industrial base’s dependence on adversaries such as China for supplies needed to build everything from bullets to nukes to night vision goggles.

The annual Senate Defense Authorization Bill, which the Armed Services Committee advanced on Thursday, would authorize $1 billion in National Defense Stockpile funding in fiscal year 2023 to “acquire minerals strategic and critical currently in short supply,” according to a summary of the legislation.

This would more than double the value of the stockpile of rare earth minerals, which includes many elements critical to defense supply chains, including titanium, tungsten, cobalt and antimony.

The fund is currently valued at $888 million, down from the current $42 billion at its peak at the start of the Cold War in 1952. Lawmakers fear the national defense stock could become insolvent by fiscal year 25, in the absence of congressional action, and prioritizes strengthening the fund in this year’s defense appropriations and authorizations cycle.

The stock is managed by the Defense Logistics Agency, and the Pentagon submitted a legislative proposal to Congress earlier this year requesting $253.5 million for FY23. The billion dollars the Senate is seeking to allocate would cover that while responding to the multiple requests for funding that the National Defense Stock has made in previous fiscal years and providing greater financial security in the years to come.

The Senate bill would also change the law to give the Department of Defense more discretion and flexibility over the fund. Current law encourages the National Defense Stock to engage in mineral sales to meet the requirements of the Congressional Budget Office rather than holding the reserve in an emergency.

Congress also authorized repeat inventory sales to fund other programs when the United States was less concerned with close competitors such as China, which dominates the strategic mineral supply chain, and more focused on operations. counter-terrorism in the Middle East and Africa.

Of particular concern is the supply of antimony, an ore necessary for the production of basic bullets and ammunition, which comes almost entirely from China. Russia is gaining ground as the world’s second largest supplier of antimony, with Tajikistan ranking third.

The Senate defense bill would require the Department of Defense to notify Congress of vulnerabilities in the antimony supply chain. The House Defense Authorization Bill also includes a briefing on antimony as well as a five-year plan on critical mineral supply chain vulnerabilities in the stockpile.

Both bills would require the Department of Defense to implement a used battery recycling policy to recover strategic minerals needed for the defense industrial supply chain, such as cobalt and lithium.

The House is expected to introduce its version of the defense authorization bill next week before both houses vote on the bill later this year.

The $40 billion military aid package for Ukraine passed by Congress last month also includes $500 million in funding under the Defense Production Act to bolster the mineral supply chain. reviews from the United States.

Bryant Harris is the congressional reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of US foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He has previously written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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