Military Applications of the REEs in the United States

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) uses rare earths in a number of military technologies and is dependent on their availability. (1) China’s near monopoly in rare earths has the attention of American security experts, the DoD, and the U.S. Congress.The U.S. rare earths policy is the DoD policy. Since its adoption in 2011, there has been a significant improvement in rare earths markets. The existing policy, combined with natural markets forces, are working together to improve supply, demand, and market prices. U.S. lawmakers need to resist pressures to pass needless legislation that will only disrupt natural market forces, increasing the cost while decreasing long-term availability.(1)

Rare earth elements play an essential role in the US national defense. The army uses night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, GPS equipment, batteries, and other defense electronics. Technologies of this sort give the United States military an enormous advantage. Rare earth metals are key ingredients for making the very hard alloys used in armored vehicles and projectiles that disintegrate upon impact. (2)

Substitutes can be used for rare earth elements in some defense applications; however, those substitutes are usually not as effective and that diminishes military superiority. Several uses of rare earth elements are summarized in the following table. (2)

Table 1. Defense Uses of Rare Earth Elements

Defense Uses of Rare Earth Elements

Lanthanum night-vision goggles
Neodymium laser range-finders, guidance systems, communications
Europium fluorescents and phosphors in lamps and monitors
Erbium amplifiers in fiber-optic data transmission
Samarium permanent magnets that are stable at high temperatures
Samarium precision-guided weapons
Samarium “white noise” production in stealth technology


(1) LTC William R. Glaser : ”U.S. Rare Earths Policy: Digging Out of the Rare Earths Quandary ”  (luce.nt)

(2) (2017-02-14)

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