Cuba returns lost US Hellfire missile

Secretary of State John Kerry (R) watches as Marines raise the American flag at the U.S. Embassy August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.
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Secretary of State John Kerry (R) watches as Marines raise the American flag at the U.S. Embassy August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.

Cuba has returned a dummy United States Hellfire missile that was mistakenly shipped there from Europe in 2014, American and Cuban officials said Saturday.

The Hellfire is a laser-guided, air-to-surface missile that weighs about 100 pounds. 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 American adversaries like North Korea or Russia. It had an incomplete guidance section and no operational seeker head, warhead, fusing system or rocket motor.

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''The inert training missile has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government,'' a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said. He declined to elaborate, but he credited the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba for allowing Washington to engage Havana ''on issues of mutual interest.''

American officials had been trying to recoup the missile for several months. The shipping error was attributed to Lockheed's freight forwarders, but the United States said last month that it was working with the 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 U.S.-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 United States government officially informed Cuba that the missile had been shipped there by mistake and the United States wanted to recover it, Cuba began proceedings to return the missile, the government said.