Richard (Rick) Mills
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As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information
In 1917 the War Industries Board (WIB) noted that the United States was deficient in certain minerals of great importance to war making and self defense. A pre-World War II list of materials contained a total of 29 materials: 14 were strategic materials that ‘must be based entirely or in substantial part on sources outside the United States.’ There were 15 critical materials that would be easier to source, perhaps even domestically, than the strategic materials.
The 1939 Strategic Materials Act authorized US$100 million to purchase strategic raw materials for a stockpile of 42 strategic and critical materials needed for wartime production.
By May 1940, small quantities of certain materials – ie. chromite, manganese (Mn), rubber and tin (Sn) – had been procured under the Strategic Materials Act. The purchases certainly weren’t enough and all throughout the war effort these and other numerous materials had to be imported in large quantities.
By 1948 the WIB’s Munitions Board had developed a list of 51 required strategic and critical material groups. By 1950 the number of required strategic and critical materials had expanded to 54 groups, representing 75 specific commodities.
Let’s fast forward a few decades…
The Metallurgical Achilles' Heel of the United States
A concise summary of U.S. mineral vulnerabilities was presented to the Industrial Readiness Panel of the House Armed Services Committee as early as 1980 by General Alton D. Slay, Commander Air Force Systems Command. General Slay pointed out that technological advances have increased the demand for exotic minerals at the same time that legislative and regulatory restrictions have been imposed on the U.S. mining industry.
“The U.S. depends on southern Africa's minerals for about the fifty percent of the "big four". Thus, a long-term cutoff of any or all of these materials has the potential for an economic and strategic crisis of greater proportions than the oil crisis of the 1970s. An embargo of South African minerals to the U.S. would affect millions of American jobs in the steel, aerospace, and petroleum industries, and could in effect shut down those industry groups.” U.S. Strategic and Critical Materials Imports: Dependency and Vulnerability
The 1981 report “A Congressional Handbook on U.S. Minerals Dependency/Vulnerability” singled out eight materials "for which the industrial health and defense of the United States is most vulnerable to potential supply disruptions" - chromium, cobalt, manganese, the platinum group of metals, titanium, bauxite/aluminum, columbium, and tantalum - the first five have been called "the metallurgical Achilles’ heel of our civilization."
In 1981, President Reagan announced a “major purchase program for the National Defense Stockpile, saying that it was widely recognized that our nation is vulnerable to sudden shortages in basic raw materials that are necessary to our defense production base.
In 1984 U.S. Marine Corps Major R.A. Hagerman wrote: “Since World War ll, the United States has become increasingly dependent on foreign sources for almost all non-fuel minerals. The availability of these minerals have an extremely important impact on American industry and, in turn, on U.S. defense capabilities. Without just a few critical minerals, such as cobalt, manganese, chromium and platinum, it would be virtually impossible to produce many defense products such as jet engine, missile components, electronic components, iron, steel, etc. This places the U.S. in a vulnerable position with a direct threat to our defense production capability if the supply of strategic minerals is disrupted by foreign powers.”
In 1985, the secretary of the United States Army testified before Congress that America was more than 50 percent dependent on foreign sources for 23 of 40 critical materials essential to U.S. national security.
The 1988 article “United States Dependence On Imports Of Four Strategic And Critical Minerals: Implications And Policy Alternatives” by G. Kevin Jones was written in regards to what he thought are the most critical minerals upon which the United States is dependent for foreign sources of supply - chromium, cobalt, manganese and the platinum group metals (PGE). These metals represent the "metallurgical Achilles' heel" of United States strategic mineral supply because their role in the economy is pervasive and they are vulnerable to supply interruption.
The May 1989 report “U.S. Strategic and Critical Materials Imports: Dependency and Vulnerability. The Latin American Alternative,” deals with over 90 materials identified in the Defense Material inventories as of September 1987. At least 15 of these minerals are considered “key minerals” because the US is over 50% import reliant. All these minerals are essential to domestic security and the national economy but four are referred to as the “first tier” or “big four” strategic materials because of their widespread role and vulnerability to supply disruptions – chromium, cobalt, manganese and platinum group metals.
In 1992 Congress directed that the bulk of the strategic and critical materials the U.S. had been able to accumulate in the National Defense Stockpile be sold.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in 1999 the United States was at least 50 percent dependent on a foreign source for 27 out of the 100 materials covered in its publication Mineral Commodity Summaries. By 2013, this number had grown to 41 materials out of 100.
The primary purpose of the National Defense Stockpile (NDS Program) is to decrease the risk of dependence on foreign suppliers or single suppliers on supply chains of strategic and critical materials used in defense, essential civilian, and essential industry applications. The NDS Program allows for decreasing risk by maintaining a domestically held inventory of necessary materials.
Section 12 (1) of the Stock Piling Act defines strategic and critical materials as materials that (A) would be needed to supply the military, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States during a national emergency and (B) are not found or produced in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet such need. Based on the results of the 2015 Requirements Report research, the NDS Program recommended new authorities for twelve of the 21 materials exhibiting a net shortfall:
- aluminum oxide, fused crude
- beryllium metal
- carbon fiber (two types)
- chlorosulfonated polyethylene
- manganese metal, electrolytic
- silicon carbide fiber, multifilament