Washington: Cuba has returned a dummy US Hellfire missile that was mistakenly shipped there from Europe in 2014, American and Cuban officials have said.
The Hellfire is a laser-guided, air-to-surface missile that weighs about 45 kilogrammes. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, it can be deployed from an attack helicopter like the Apache or an unmanned drone like the Predator.
The weapon returned by Cuba was an inert training missile that was inadvertently sent to the island from Europe, where it was used in a NATO training exercise.
It did not contain explosives, but the device's diversion raised concerns that Cuba could share technology with potential US adversaries like North Korea or Russia. It had an incomplete guidance section and no operational seeker head, warhead, fusing system or rocket motor.
"The inert training missile has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said yesterday. He declined to elaborate, but he credited July's re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Cold War foes for allowing Washington to engage Havana "on issues of mutual interest."
US officials had been trying to recoup the missile for several months. The shipping error was attributed to Lockheed's freight forwarders, but the US said last month it was working with the weapons manufacturer to get the missile back.
In a statement, the Cuban government confirmed the return of the missile and said that customs inspectors had discovered it while conducting a routine inspection of cargo that had arrived on a flight from Paris.
The government statement said the missile had come to Cuba as a result of "error or mishandling" in its country of origin. "For Cuban authorities, the arrival in the country of US-made military equipment that hadn't been declared as such on the cargo manifesto was worrying," the government said.
The equipment was "duly conserved and taken care of" and once the US government officially informed Cuba that the missile had been shipped there by mistake and the US wanted to recover it, Cuba began proceedings to return the missile, the government said.
A team of US experts travelled to Cuba to inspect the missile and brought it back to the US yesterday, the government said.