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China turning the screws on US military, taking away key material

The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 07, 2023

What if there were important metals unknown by the general public that held the entire U.S. military together? What if China controlled them all and is now cutting supply to the United States? Well, now it’s happening.

According to Reuters, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that the U.S. Defense Department announced the utilization of the Defense Production Act on Friday to increase mining and processing capacity for gallium and germanium in the United States.

Gallium and germanium are two rare metals that are crucial for the U.S. defense industry to produce high-tech chips used in the military.

“The (Defense) Department is proactively taking steps using Defense Production Act Title III authorities to increase domestic mining and processing of critical materials for the microelectronics and space supply chain, including gallium and germanium,” a U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson said.

Reuters reported that China announced Monday that it will implement export controls on both metals beginning Aug. 1. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce, the export controls will “safeguard national security and interests.”

Germanium is used in the production of satellite imagery sensors, plastics and military applications in night-vision equipment, and in military computer chips. Gallium is used in LED products, satellites, semiconductors, transistors, radio communication devices, and radar.

The two rare metals are also critical for the “green energy” transition underway in the United States under the Biden administration. The metals are used in products such as electric vehicles and fiber optic cables.

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China’s recent announcement of additional controls on gallium and germanium exports has resulted in companies quickly scrambling to obtain the crucial metal supplies.

Since China currently controls the majority of the world’s supply and processing of gallium and germanium, Arun Seraphin, executive director for the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Institute, said export controls and restrictions can slow “the production of DoD systems” and “rachets up the cost.”

According to Reuters, the Pentagon currently has a strategic stockpile of germanium, but does not have a stockpile of gallium.

Dak Hardwick, vice president of international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association, explained that the Pentagon will have to determine alternative sources of gallium and germanium in the future, “whether it’s direct mining, direct manufacture, direct refining or production, or from a recycling program from obsolete equipment.”

Hardwick suggested that China’s export restrictions could motivate lawmakers to invest in other sources of crucial minerals.

On Wednesday, former vice-minister of commerce Wei Jianguo told Chinese media, “This is just the beginning of China’s countermeasures, and China’s toolbox has many more types of measures available. If the high-tech restrictions on China become tougher in the future, China’s countermeasures will also escalate.”