Congress Drafts New Law Over Mineral Shortage

( The US armed forces may not be adequately equipped due to a lack of rare earth material and reliance on foreign munitions.

To minimize the defense industrial base’s reliance on rivals like China for resources needed to create everything from bullets to nuclear bombs to night vision goggles, Congress is attempting to double more than the net worth of the national strategic mineral stockpile.

According to a synopsis of the legislation, the yearly military authorization bill for the Senate would approve $1 billion in financing for the National Defense Stockpile in fiscal 2023 to “acquire strategic and vital minerals currently in short supply.”

The value of the stockpile of rare earth minerals, which includes numerous materials crucial to the supply chains for the defense industry, such as titanium, tungsten, cobalt, and antimony, would more than treble as a result.

The fund’s current value is $888 million, down from its highest value of $42 billion in today’s money in 1952 during the Cold War. Without Congressional action, the National Defense Stockpile would run out of cash by FY25. Therefore lawmakers are making shoring up the fund a top priority during this year’s defense budgets and authorization cycle.

The Defense Logistics Agency manages the stockpile, and earlier this year, the Pentagon requested $253.5 million from Congress in a legislative proposal. The $1 billion that the Senate wants to set aside would take care of this, backfilling other budget requests that the National Defense Stockpile made in prior fiscal years and enhancing future financial stability.

When the United States was less concerned with near-peer competitors like China, which dominates the strategic material supply chain, and more focused on terrorist activities in the Middle East and Africa, Congress also permitted numerous stockpile sell-offs to finance other priorities.

The availability of antimony, a mineral used to make standard bullets and ammunition sourced nearly entirely from China, is of particular concern. With Tajikistan in third place, Russia is overtaking it as the world’s second-largest supplier of antimony.

According to the Senate defense bill, the Defense Department must inform Congress of any weaknesses in the antimony supply chain. A five-year strategy on supply chain vulnerabilities of essential minerals in the stockpile is also required under the House military authorization bill’s draft legislation, in addition to a briefing on antimony.

Both proposals would compel the Defense Department to establish a strategy of recycling used batteries to recover essential minerals like cobalt and lithium that are required in the defense industry supply chain.

Before both houses vote on the legislation later this year, the House is anticipated to advance its version of the defense authorization bill next week.