WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has recovered a missile that was accidentally sent to Cuba in 2014 after a logistical mix-up in Europe, bringing an end to an unusual and sensitive episode in the world of defence.
The dummy training version of a US Hellfire missile was returned to the US with the "cooperation of the Cuban government", State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said on Saturday (Feb 13), declining to provide specifics.
"The re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the re-opening of our Embassy in Havana allow us to engage with the Cuban government on issues of mutual interest."
Despite the recent thaw in US-Cuban relations, the loss of the missile - even the dummy version - raised the possibility that Havana could pass sensitive military technology on to rivals such as Russia or China.
However, the Hellfire missile, commonly fired at ground targets from a helicopter or a drone, has been in service since 1984, and has been delivered to more than two dozen countries.
Washington has treated the matter as a logistical mix-up, although the US Justice Department is investigating.
The Hellfire is produced by US defence giant Lockheed Martin along with an inert version known as a "Captive Air Training Missile" stripped of its warhead, fuse, gyroscope and motor.
A source familiar with the issue, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity because of US laws protecting the confidentiality of commercial arms deals, has said the shipment was made in 2014.
That year, Lockheed received export approval from the State Department to send a dummy missile to a Nato training exercise in Spain and flew one out of Orlando, Florida.
The mix-up occurred as it was being sent back.
It is believed the missile was loaded onto a truck chartered by Air France headed towards Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, then onto a cargo flight to Havana, where it was seized by the authorities there.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report the lost missile.
Lockheed Martin notified the State Department when it realised the missile was missing.