An AGM-114 Hellfire missile hung on the rail of a US Air Force Predator drone. Photo: Wikimedia
By Caribbean News Now contributor
WASHINGTON, USA -- An inactive Hellfire missile sent to Europe for training was shipped back to Cuba by mistake, where it has remained since 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Hellfire is an air-to-surface missile (ASM) first developed to be fired from helicopters for anti-tank use, but later models were developed for precision strikes by the United States or other western nations against other high value-targets, frequently launched from Predator drones.
The manufacturer is said to have shipped the training missile to Spain for a NATO training exercise in the summer of 2014.
During its return from Spain to the United States, the missile was apparently misrouted by the cargo-shipping firm from Madrid for its flight back to Florida. Instead of flying from Madrid to Frankfurt, Germany, and then back to Florida, the missile was misrouted to Paris and on to Havana.
The missile wrongly sent to Cuba is called a Hellfire Captive Air Training Missile (CATM), a "dummy missile" used in exercises. Sources told CNN that it contained an incomplete guidance section and was not fitted with a warhead, fusing system rocket monitor or operational seeker -- all components needed to successfully hit a target.
But while it was not operational, the missile still contained sensitive American weapons technology, such as targeting and sensor information, that US officials said would be of concern if it fell into the hands of adversaries.
"This is an issue that the administration takes very, very seriously. I think for quite obvious reasons," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday when asked about the issue.
The US has reportedly been trying for more than a year to get the Cuban government to return the missile.
According to intelligence sources, there is a distinct possibility that the missile was intentionally misdirected as part of an espionage or criminal operation, rather than just an accidental misrouting of the shipment, something that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are currently investigating.