(Reuters) – The U.S. Army plans to fund construction of rare earths processing facilities, part of an urgent push by Washington to secure domestic supply of the minerals used to make military weapons and electronics, according to a government document seen by Reuters.
The move would mark the first financial investment by the U.S. military into commercial-scale rare earths production since World War Two’s Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb.
It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this year ordered the military to update its supply chain for the niche materials, warning that reliance on other nations for the strategic minerals could hamper U.S. defenses.
China, which refines most of the world’s rare earths, has threatened to stop exporting the specialized minerals to the United States, using its monopoly as a cudgel in the ongoing trade spat between the world’s two largest economies.
“The U.S. rare earths industry needs big help to compete against the Chinese,” said Jim McKenzie, chief executive officer of UCore Rare Metals Inc (UCU.V), which is developing a rare earths project in Alaska. “It’s not just about the money, but also the optics of broad support from Washington.”