Pentagon says F-35s use Chinese rare earths, U.S. supply to rise

(Source: Bloomberg News) – Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is among 36 weapons that use high-powered magnets made from imported rare-earth material, mostly from China, according to a U.S. Defense Department study that also predicts adequate domestic supplies by 2015.

The study, ordered by Congress, found that in addition to the Air Force’s F-35 and F-22 jets, the Navy’s DDG-51 destroyer, the Army’s Bradley armored vehicle and missiles such as the AIM- 9X Sidewinder are weapons that use neodymium iron-boron magnets made from rare-earth material. The weapons makers include top contractors such as Lockheed, Raytheon Co., General Dynamics Corp., and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

U.S. weapons use about 175 metric tons of neodymium iron- boron magnets annually, according to a copy of the Assessment and Plan for Critical Rare Earth Material in Defense Applications which was reviewed by Bloomberg News.

The Pentagon report found that Japan and Germany were the next two sources of supply for neodymium iron-boron magnets for U.S. weapons makers after China.

By 2015, the U.S. may possess all elements of the supply chain from ore to magnet-making, the report said.

In October 2010, the Defense Department also found that China’s monopoly on rare-earth materials posed no threat to U.S. national security, a person familiar with a report prepared last year said at the time. The findings were criticized by lawmakers as being “myopic.”