U.S. officials are trying to figure out how an inert Hellfire missile used in a training mission in Europe ended up in Cuba, according to a report, in what appears to be one of the most bizarre ever disappearances of sensitive U.S. military technology.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that U.S. officials have for over a year been trying to convince the Cuban government to return the state-of-the-art missile, which they say was mistakenly shipped from Europe to Cuba in 2014.
The officials said the dummy missile was sent by its developer, Lockheed Martin, to Spain where it was used in a NATO military exercise. It was meant to then be returned to Florida, but disappeared after being sent on a roundabout journey through Europe.
By the time officials noticed the missile had gone missing, it was already en route from Paris to Havana on an Air France flight.
The Journal reports that federal investigators are looking into whether the disappearance was the work of spies, criminals, or simply the result of a series of mistakes.
But speaking to the Associated Press, a U.S. official attributed the shipping error to Lockheed’s freight forwarders, and said the U.S. is working with the company to retrieve the missile.
The Hellfire missile did not contain explosives, but did have sensors and targeting technology that officials fear could be reverse engineered. There are also concerns Cuba could share the technology with other governments such as North Korea.
The missile misplacement comes as the U.S. and Cuba undergo a historic thaw in relations. But distrust remains between the two longtime foes, and Cuba is still subject to a U.S. ban on military exports.