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Rare Earth Elements in National Defense

S. 3254, the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for FY2013, was introduced on June 4, 2012, and referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. While the enacted bill66 did not include a provision on rare earths, Senate Rept. 112-173 contained a statement that reflected the Committee’s view on the role of rare earth materials for defense purposes, as repeated here. 67

Essential role of rare earth materials

Rare earth materials play an essential role in several critical weapons components and systems such as precision-guided munitions, electric ship drives, command and control centers, and aircraft, tanks, and missile systems. The committee notes the predominance of unreliable foreign sources for rare earth materials, including China, which provides roughly 94 percent of the world’s rare earth oxides and nearly all rare earth metal within the defense- related supply chain and which has repeatedly decreased export quotas and imposed embargoes of these critical materials. Even with the development of the domestic-supply chain there may be continued reliance on production of certain heavy rare earth elements from China. The importance of rare earth materials for national defense applications necessitates a thorough understanding of vulnerabilities in the rare earth supply chain and the development of pragmatic, actionable risk mitigation plans to reduce the likelihood of supply interruptions. The committee encourages the Department of Defense to carefully consider the role of U.S. producers and potential means to develop reliable domestic sources to meet Department rare earth materials requirements. 68

P.L. 111-393, the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011

Section 843 of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011 (P.L. 111-383) and S.Rept. 111-201 (accompanying S. 3454, the proposed Senate National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011) required the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of rare earth supply chain issues and develop a plan to address any vulnerabilities.

Section 843

Section 843 required the Secretary of Defense, within 180 days of enactment of the act,69 to report to Congress with an assessment of the supply and demand for rare earth materials in defense applications. The assessment would identify whether any rare earth materials would be:

(1) Critical to the production, sustainment, or operation of significant United States military equipment; or

(2) Subject to interruption of supply, based on actions or events outside the control of the Government of the United States. 70

For every rare earth material identified that would meet these criteria, the Secretary of Defense would develop a plan for the long-term availability of such materials with the goal of establishing

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P.L. 112-239 was enacted into law, January 2, 2013. Items of Special Interest, S.Rept. 112-173. Ibid.

69 P.L. 111-83 was signed into law on January 7, 2011. Thus, the DOD report would have come due on or around July 7, 2011.

70

Section 343, P.L. 111-83.

Congressional Research Service

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