US military dependent on foreign countries, including China


A Pentagon-led review ordered by President Donald Trump identified hundreds of instances where the US military depends on foreign countries, especially China, for critical materials, officials said.

The study is expected to be released in the coming weeks and aims to lessen the US military’s reliance on foreign countries and strengthen local industry.

Among the study’s conclusions will be a determination the US is too dependent on foreign suppliers for a range of items including micro-electronics, tiny components such as integrated circuits and transistors, officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

These essential components are embedded in advanced electronics used in everything from satellites and cruise missiles to drones and cellphones.

The focus on China reflects an effort under Trump to address risks to US national security from Beijing’s growing military and economic clout. Pentagon officials want to be sure China cannot hobble America’s military by cutting off supplies of materials or sabotaging exported technology.

The report could add to mounting trade tensions with China, bolstering the Trump administration’s “Buy American” initiative, which aims to help drum up billions dollars more in arms sales for US manufacturers and create more jobs.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, Pentagon spokesman, did not comment on the contents of the report telling Reuters the study would make recommendations “to ensure a robust, resilient, secure and ready manufacturing and defence industrial base.”

China, the main supplier of many of rare earth minerals used by the United States, will be given special emphasis in the report, said officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

A January analysis from the United States Geological Survey said the United States produced no rare earth minerals in 2017 while China accounted for 81% of global mine production. Rare earth minerals are used in magnets, radars and consumer electronics.

Aside from the risk a foreign power could cut off vital supplies needed to keep the US military up and running, other risks include sabotaged equipment or espionage.

The Pentagon has long fretted “kill switches” could be embedded in transistors that could turn off sensitive US systems in conflict. US intelligence officials warned this year about the possibility China could use Chinese-made mobile phones and network equipment to spy on Americans.

When the study is released, it will not provide a detailed inventory of all weaknesses in the supply chain. These will be in a classified annexure.

A US official said the report will examine US shortcomings contributing to purchases from foreign companies, including roller-coaster US defence budgets making it difficult to predict government demand. Another weakness is in US science and technology education.


Advocates of the study say it is a late but critical look at ways to address America’s loss of manufacturing, whose toll on national security gets far less attention than jobs lost and the political wave it created in rust-belt states that helped elect Trump president in 2016.
“People used to think you could outsource the manufacturing base without any repercussions on national security. Now we know that’s not the case,” said a US official familiar with the report, speaking on condition of anonymity.

One of the report’s recommendations is expected to be ensuring profitability for niche US producers of critical components in American weaponry.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, has publicly spoken in recent weeks about the Defence Production Act (DPA) of 1950, which allows the US president to incentivise domestic producers of critical materials through purchase commitments and other guarantees.

Lord said government should step in to offer support if businesses were unable to ensure a “reasonable profit.”

The US Government Accountability Office offered an example in a report last year about the US military funding a US factory in 2014 to produce the chemical Butanetriol, used in the Hellfire air-to-surface missile.

For the previous six years, the military relied on China for the chemical.