President Obama's recent announcement of a Department of Defense funded metals manufacturing institute is a nod to the criticality of raw materials to national security at a time of growing resource nationalism amongst mineral-rich nations.
The $148 million Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute--also backed by major defense manufacturers like Boeing and Lockheed Martin--will focus on the light-weighting of metals crucial to defense and aerospace applications, with the ultimate goal of making U.S. military equipment more efficient, deft and adaptable to the rapidly changing landscape of combat. It could also spur action on an issue that not only threatens our national security, but countless domestic industries including automakers, high tech innovators and U.S. manufacturers: foreign mineral import reliance.
The LM3I Institute hopes to make the U.S. more competitive and secure by expanding domestic markets for products made with metals such as copper, platinum, gold, molybdenum, palladium and nickel to lighten vehicles for the military and consumers alike in order to improve performance and fuel efficiency. Lighter vehicles result in fewer emissions and costs while being able to carry larger loads and travel farther distances. And lighter military vehicles can withstand carrying heavy weapons while still being easily transportable.
The innovations pursued by LM3I Institute are just the latest use of minerals and metals to create and improve countless technologies that protect our troops abroad and support homeland security. Each year, the DoD acquires nearly 750,000 tons of minerals used in an array of defense and military applications to keep our nation safe and combat ready. Molybdenum, for example, is a key component in the manufacturing of armor plating. Minerals such as nickel, titanium and zinc are found in military aircraft like the Boeing EA-18G Growler--the United States' most advanced electronic warfare aircraft. The Navy's air warfare division just requested 22 more EA-18G Growlers in order to reduce the duration of military missions and bring our troops home quickly and safely.
Unfortunately, it's increasingly becoming a zero-sum game to procure these minerals as demand soars and the United States' access to these resources is put in jeopardy. According to a recent report by Brig. Gen. John Adams for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, "The increased demand for minerals has encouraged resource nationalism, where countries seek to exert greater control over the extraction and processing of key elements ... exposing the United States to potential supply disruptions and other risks. …