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Rare Earth Elements in National Defense

The first directive requires the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to submit a report to the congressional defense committees, by February 1, 2014, to outline a risk mitigation strategy focused on securing the necessary supplies of rare earth elements. The report language reads as follows:

Title XVI – Industrial Base Matters

Report on the Diversification of Supply Activities Related to Rare Earth Elements

The committee is aware that in response to the report required by section 843 of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (P.L. 111-383) and based on forecasting demand for fiscal year 2013 only, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics concluded that domestic production of rare earth elements could satisfy the level of consumption required to meet defense procurement needs by fiscal year 2013, with the exception of yttrium. However, the committee observes that the Future Years Defense Program indicates that consumption of rare earth elements is expected to increase after 2013. Specifically, the report on the feasibility and desirability of recycling, recovery, and reprocessing of rare earth elements required by the conference report (H.Rept. 112-329) to accompany the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, states that each SSN-774 Virginia-class submarine would require approximately 9,200 pounds of rare earth materials, each DDG-51 Aegis destroyer would require approximately 5,200 pounds of these materials, and each F-35 Lightning II aircraft would require approximately 920 pounds of these materials.

The committee is aware that the Department of Defense intends to pursue a three-pronged strategy to secure supplies of rare earth elements, which consists of diversification of supply, pursuit of substitutes, and a focus on reclamation of waste, as part of a larger U.S. Government recycling effort. The committee believes that diversification of supply activities related to rare earth elements is necessary in order to meet the growing demand for these materials, but the committee is concerned that some of these processes may prove to be technically difficult or so expensive that they are deemed cost-prohibitive.

Therefore, the committee directs the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to submit a report to the congressional defense committees by February 1, 2014, on the Department’s risk mitigation strategy for rare earth elements, which should include, at a minimum, the following elements:

(1) A list and description of the programs initiated or planned to reclaim rare earth elements by the Department, along with a description of the materials reclaimed or expected to be reclaimed from such programs;

(2) An assessment of the cost of materials produced by these reclamation efforts compared to the cost of newly-mined materials;

(3) An assessment of availability of reliable suppliers in the National Defense Industrial Base for the reclamation and reprocessing of rare earth elements;

(4) A list of alternative sources of supply, such as mine tailings, recycled components, and consumer waste, that the Department has investigated or plans to investigate;

Congressional Research Service


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