WASHINGTON – The United States has recovered a missile that was accidentally sent to Cuba in 2014 after a shipping mistake in Europe, bringing an end to an unusual and sensitive episode in the world of defense.
The dummy training version of a U.S. Hellfire missile, which contained potentially highly sensitive technology, was returned to the U.S. with the “cooperation of the Cuban government,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said Saturday, declining to provide specifics.
“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of our Embassy in Havana allow us to engage with the Cuban government on issues of mutual interest.”
Despite the recent thaw in US-Cuban relations, the loss of the missile raised the possibility that Havana could pass sensitive military technology on to rivals such as Russia or China.
However, the Hellfire missile, commonly fired at ground targets from a helicopter or a drone, has been in service since 1984, and has been delivered to more than two dozen countries.
Washington has treated the matter as a logistical mistake, although the U.S. Justice Department is investigating.
The Hellfire is produced by defense giant Lockheed Martin along with an inert version known as a “Captive Air Training Missile,” which is stripped of its warhead, fuse, gyroscope and motor.
A source familiar with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of U.S. laws protecting the confidentiality of commercial arms deals, has said the shipment was made in 2014.
That year, Lockheed received export approval from the State Department to send a dummy missile to a NATO training exercise in Spain and flew one out of Orlando, Florida.
The mixup occurred as it was being sent back.
It is believed the missile was loaded onto a truck chartered by Air France headed toward Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, then onto a cargo flight to Havana, where it was seized by the authorities there.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the lost missile.
Lockheed Martin notified the State Department when it realized the missile was missing.