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Critical Minerals and the Defense Industrial Base: Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Testifies Before Senate Armed Services Subcommittee

Hours after President Donald Trump issued a new executive order declaring a national emergency on critical minerals, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support received testimony from Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord on the integrity of America’s critical minerals supply chains.

Kicking off the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) argued that COVID-19 and the rise of China have given new urgency to “the vulnerabilities and gaps in our supply chains, particularly as it relates to national security.”

Said Sullivan:

“Highly technical weapons systems, as well as consumer electronics (…) increasingly have a role in warfighting and are increasingly reliant on Chinese supply chains. One area of supply chain integrity that is particularly important to me, and I think the rest of the country, is our supply of strategic critical minerals and metals that go into many of our modern-day electronics and our modern-day weapons. The key issue on this is that we know we’re reliant on China. In many cases, we, the United States of America, actually have these critical minerals—for example, in the great state of Alaska—and we actually mine them and process them [using] much higher environmental standards than the Chinese (…) and I think people are starting to recognize that.”

In her testimony, Under Secretary Lord addressed the Department of Defense’s efforts to strengthen and secure the Defense Industrial Base (DIB), “both before and since the President issued ‘Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak’ on: March 13, 2020.”

Lord pointed to reduced U.S. capability in microelectronics as a particularly troublesome area for the DIB, where reliance on non-U.S. suppliers for leaves DoD vulnerable.

Outlining current and future efforts, she said:

“What we can do today is begin the mining and processing (…) [and] we can think about stockpiling some more of these. We need the authorities to move forward with these, in some cases, and we certainly need appropriations (…) We actually have worked through OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and have submitted to Congress and hoped to see another appropriation to DOD under the CARES Act, and we actually had submitted $5 billion for another DPA (Defense Production Act) Title III appropriation, because our industrial business council has a very long list of critical frugalities that we are trying to address. Rare earth is our key one.”

When asked by Sen. Sullivan how the Strategic Petroleum Reserve differed from the National Defense Stockpile and whether said stockpile should be expanded to take on a role similar to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Lord replied: “There is already a lot of work going on to look at expanding the National Defense Stockpile to include more rare earths and to look at that as a national resource.” She committed to providing the subcommittee with a plan, within 30 days, for establishing a domestic stockpile of critical minerals.

In a week where the lack of critical mineral supply was declared a “national emergency,” the Senate SASC hearing underscores that resource dependency, in the 21st Century Tech Metals Era, is a clear and present danger.