Chinese-Sourced Magnet in F-35 Prompts Supply Chain Concerns

AFA NEWS: China-originated magnet in F-35 raises concern in supply chain

air force photo

NATIONAL PORT, Maryland — The recent discovery of a Chinese-sourced F-35 engine part is prompting the Air Force to take a closer look at its supply chain, the service chief said Sept. 20.

In early September, the Department of Defense temporarily halted Lockheed Martin from deliveries of the F-35 fighter jet after discovering that an alloy found in a magnet connected to the plane’s engine came from China.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. reiterated that the engine part does not pose a safety threat or endanger the engine’s performance, but that there are concerns about the integrity of the supply chain.

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“We as a nation — and all of our allies and partners — are looking at supply chains,” he told reporters at the Air and Space Force Association’s annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

China dominates the mining and refining of rare earth minerals, which represent a set of 17 elements on the periodic table. Some of the elements are needed to make high-performance magnets found in certain military equipment such as jet engines and radars.

The so-called “technology minerals” are also becoming increasingly important, because high-performance magnets are also required for electric vehicles and wind energy.

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Both the Trump and Biden administrations have taken steps to reduce the nation’s reliance on China’s rare-earth elements by opening mines, moving refining capacity back to the United States, and encouraging recycling.

Despite the name, rare earths are relatively common in the earth’s crust and the United States has an abundance of the elements, but China has almost monopolized their refinement. Along with the rare earth mines, China has devoted intellectual capital to finding ways to exploit them and is the world leader in patents related to these minerals.

The supply chain problem also extends to the semiconductor industry, which China does not dominate. However, chip manufacturing in Taiwan has raised concerns that this source could be compromised in the event of a conflict. Congress recently passed the CHIPS and Science Act to address this issue.

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Brown said the question is where will the nation get its parts from in the event of conflict or crisis.

“The better we understand [the supply chain] today, the better positioned we will be in the future,” said Brown.

He said there was an investigation into how the Chinese alloy got into the supply chain, but he had nothing to report yet.

Subjects: Air Force News

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