Rare earth minerals are essential components of many high-tech products, including weapons systems and fighter jets—and the US military wants to stop relying on China for them. According to government documents seen by Reuters, the Pentagon is planning to fund processing of the 17 elements for the first time since the Manhattan Project. China has long dominated productions of the minerals, but it threatened this year to cut off the supply amid a trade dispute with the US and has made similar threats in the past. Earlier this year, President Trump told the military to work on its own supply of the minerals.
Analysts say that since so much of the industry is concentrated in China, the relatively small American industry will likely need the assistance of the military to get new facilities up and running. "The US rare earths industry needs big help to compete against the Chinese,” Jim McKenzie, chief executive officer of UCore Rare Metals Inc., tells Reuters. "It's not just about the money, but also the optics of broad support from Washington." Military documents state that the Pentagon will fund up to two-thirds of the cost of a new plant to process heavy rare earths, the rarest and most valuable of the rare earths. (Read more rare earth minerals stories.)