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When the US accidentally shipped their Hellfire missile to Cuba

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:14 IST
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  • The US federal authorities have since made several request to the Cuban government to return the missile, while simultaneously attempting to track if this goof-up was an accident or the work of spies.
  • Hellfire missiles are modernised version of anti-tank weapons that were used in the 80s.

At some point in 2014, US military officials prepped a 100 pound air-to-ground Hellfire missile to send it to Europe for training purposes. However, to the utter astonishment of those involved, the missile ended up in on the coast of neighbouring state of Cuba.

It took a while for the officials to figure out that they had "accidentally" shipped the advanced military technological weapon to Cuba - a nation that the US then had arm sanctions against. This was before Obama made peace with Cuban leader Raul Castro.

Hellfire missiles are modernised version of anti-tank weapons that were used in the 80s. They are mostly used to shoot targets from helicopters with precision, but the US also uses them as arsenals attached to predatory drones.

And while this particular missile was not active with explosives, the incident has raised concerns of such technology falling into the wrong hands.

The US federal authorities have since made several request to the Cuban government to return the missile, while simultaneously attempting to track if this goof-up was an accident or the work of spies.

How does one lose a missile?

Early in 2014, the missile was packed by manufacturer Lockheed Martin, with proper permission from the US State Department, and clearly marked as containing material subject to rigorous export controls, a report in Wall Street Journal states.

The missile was delivered to Spain where it was used for training purposes. It was here that it was packed and loaded on to a truck.

The trucking company released the cargo to another shipping company to put it on a flight to Germany. From here, it was to be put on another plane to Florida.

However, at Germany they realised that the missile was no longer part of its cargo. Upon investigation, it was found that the missile was put on an Air France truck that was on its way to Paris.

By the time, the shipping company realised its error and contacted Air France, the plane containing the missile was already flying towards Havana, the capital city of Cuba, where local authorities seized the cargo.

But it wasn't until June 2014, that Lockheed Martin realised that the missile was missing and reported it to the State Department. For some reason, nobody from the shipping companies thought of reporting the incident sooner, nor did Lockheed Martin take a stock of its stockpile in that time between.

Implications of losing a weapon

Interestingly, though, wrong shipments happened more often than you would imagine. However, it is unlikely for such a sensitive defence item to be wrongly mailed, to a rival country no less.

While the threat of the weapon being used against the US is little, it is potential a loss of large defence data that has analysts and politicians worried. They fear that the technology might not only be revered engineered, but could also help warring nations such as North Korea develop advanced defences against the US weapon.

First published: 11 January 2016, 3:25 IST
 
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