Hellfire missile shipped to Europe ends up in...Cuba?

Here's something you don't read about every day.  An inert Hellfire missile, shipped to Europe to be part of a training exercise, somehow ended up in Cuba.

The Cuban government refuses to return the missile, which arrived in 2014, so by this time, it's likely that some very sensitive technology has been passed on to our enemies.  The Wall Street Journal reports, "It is unclear whether a U.S. adversary has ever obtained such knowledge of a Hellfire."

U.S. authorities are unsure whether the missile was diverted as part of an intelligence operation or whether simple incompetence is to blame.

The people familiar with the case said the missile was sent to Spain and used in the military exercise. But for reasons that are still unclear, after it was packed up, it began a roundabout trip through Europe, was loaded onto a truck and eventually sent to Germany.

The missile was packaged in Rota, Spain, a U.S. official said, where it was put into the truck belonging to another freight-shipping firm, known by officials who track such cargo as a “freight forwarder.” That trucking company released the missile to yet another shipping firm that was supposed to put the missile on a flight originating in Madrid. That flight was headed to Frankfurt, Germany, before it was to be placed on another flight bound for Florida.

At some point, officials loading the first flight realized the missile it expected to be loading onto the aircraft wasn’t among the cargo, the government official said. After tracing the cargo, officials realized that the missile had been loaded onto a truck operated by Air France, which took the missile to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. There, it was loaded onto a “mixed pallet” of cargo and placed on an Air France flight. By the time the freight-forwarding firm in Madrid tracked down the missile, it was on the Air France flight, headed to Havana.

Attempts to reach Air France were unsuccessful.

When the plane landed in Havana, a local official spotted the labeling on the shipping crate and seized it, people familiar with the case said. Around June 2014, Lockheed Martin officials realized the missile was missing, was likely in Cuba, and notified the State Department, said those familiar with the matter. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as well as prosecutors with the Justice Department are now investigating to see whether the redirection of the missile was a crime.

Pardon my ignorance, but why not just take the missile from the training area, put it on a plane, and send it back to the U.S.?  Why all this moving around and changing trucks, and flying the damn thing all over Europe?  I guess that makes too much sense for the bureaucrats.

How bad is this?  Pretty bad:

Several of those familiar with the case said the loss of the Hellfire missile is the worst example they can recall of the kind of missteps that can occur in international shipping of sensitive military technology. While there are instances in which sensitive technology ends up getting lost in transit, it is virtually unheard of for such a shipment to end up in a sanctioned country like Cuba, according to industry experts.

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said it is likely some foreign nations would like to reverse-engineer parts of a Hellfire, such as the sensors or targeting technology, to develop countermeasures or to improve their own missile systems.

We use the Hellfire on Predator drones, on helicopters, and on some older fighters.  It is not the most modern missile we have, but it is probably the most serviceable.  If an enemy has the missile's secrets, it could reduce its effectiveness on the battlefield.

A weird, incomprehensible screw-up. 

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