Critical Raw Materials and UK Defence Acquisition: The Case of Rare Earth Elements

Critical Raw Materials and UK Defence Acquisition: The Case of Rare Earth Elements

Julieanna Powell-Turner (Cranfield University, UK) and Peter D. Antill (Cranfield University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0599-0.ch008
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Abstract

This chapter examines the factors which could affect future critical raw material availability for UK defence, focusing on the availability of rare earth elements (REE). These include tighter regulatory policy and its enforcement, export policies, promoting greater efficiency in resource use, efforts to mitigate resource depletion and more efficient resource extraction while reducing its associated environmental impact. There is also the effect these factors might have on global supply chains, the impact on material insecurity and how this may exacerbate the issue of their use in UK defence acquisition. While this chapter looks at the issues and vulnerabilities surrounding the availability of REE, underlying this is the increasing vulnerability of military supply chains in an increasingly globalised world.
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Introduction

One of the biggest challenges facing both the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Defence Industry is trying to predict the future. This occurs in terms of planning for future conflicts and the forces that will be used to fight them (see for example MoD, 2014) but which also feeds into trying to estimate future demand for resources, their availability and security of supply, as well as the growing public pressure to achieve a more sustainable and greener military capability (EDA, 2012; Hedrick, 2013; MoD, 2011).

These challenges, combined with questions over the availability of certain critical raw materials, widespread increases in their prices, limited sources of supply and the dependence on a limited number of politically unstable or authoritarian countries as sources, pose further risks and potential insecurities to industry as a whole, and to defence in particular. (Bradsher, 2011; KPMG, 2012) Such risks have the potential to have a negative impact on the conduct of future operations, as much of the digital technology that has become available in the last few years relies on imported, yet strategically important, raw materials. Such a dependence on complex global (but fragile) supply chains is only likely to increase both the risk of systemic failure as well as its impact. In the future, will the primary concern be about accessibility rather than availability (Humphries, 2013)?

Furthermore, the environmental impacts associated with ensuring resource availability are likely to increase as the most abundant and easily accessed reserves are exhausted in response to population growth, continuing industrialisation and higher material prosperity (Ahmed, 2014). Even if substitutes are available – and in many cases they are not (Dennehy, 2013) – better overall environmental performance and reducing the impact on the environment are sometimes achieved through the use of materials that have an even greater environmental impact or a dangerous extraction method. This paradox may be avoided by developing new material processing techniques that are less hazardous and have greater security, or utilising materials common in the wider economy that have exceptional performance characteristics and lower environmental costs, in order to satisfy demand from the UK defence and security sector (Powell-Turner et al, 2011).

This chapter examines the factors which could affect future critical raw material availability for UK defence, focusing on the availability of rare earth elements (REE). These include tighter regulatory policy and its enforcement, export policies, promoting greater efficiency in resource use, efforts to mitigate resource depletion and more efficient resource extraction while reducing its associated environmental impact. There is also the effect these factors might have on global supply chains, the impact on material insecurity and how this may exacerbate the issue of their use in UK defence acquisition. While this chapter looks at the issues and vulnerabilities surrounding the availability of REE, underlying this is the increasing vulnerability of military supply chains in an increasingly globalised world.

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