Enduring Attraction: America's Dependence on and Need to Secure Its Supply of Permanent Magnets
Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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The United States is the worlds preeminent military power due in large part to its technological superiority. This lead in innovative technology supporting national security also includes advances in new and green energy applications. A common ingredient enabling the production of many of these applications is a group of minerals known as rare earth elements REEs. Two REEs in particular, the refined metals neodymium and samarium, are key components in the manufacture of miniature high-temperature resistant permanent magnets. These magnets are essential to scores of high-technology devices such as wind turbines, hybrid car engines, and computer hard drives. Moreover, they are critical for military applications including precision-guided munitions, tank navigation systems, and electronic countermeasures equipment. The worlds demand for REEs is steadily increasing. Simultaneously, the supply of REEs is shrinking, or rather China, which annually produces 97 of the world markets rare earth minerals and controls some 37 the planets known reserves, is steadily reducing its output. China dramatically restricted its exports by 72 in the last six months of 2010 to satisfy its rapidly expanding national appetite for REEs. China is also progressively acquiring the industrial base to manufacture permanent magnets and their end-products at the expense of American businesses, which China systematically purchases and relocates within its borders. The entire supply chain of REE permanent magnets is now in China.