(…or how to lose sensitive munitions…without really trying)

A recent news item in the Wall Street Journal caught our attention the other day. Mainly because it seems to confirm that we Americans have a government whose skills at creating FUBAR situations are the finest that tax-payer money can buy.

The news item was about how one of our Hellfire missiles (sans warhead)…went missing…only to end up in Havana, Cuba, where it still is today. After a year of investigation how and why it ended up there is still not clear. Which just goes to show that the old adage saying: if government ran it…crime wouldn’t pay…is still quite valid.

What little we do know about this fiasco is that it is clear how slipshod our government’s various bureaucracies are about their security controls for handling such sensitive munitions. Sensitive in this instance because of the high-tech guidance system which makes our Hellfire missile extremely accurate, and thus one of deadliest of air-to-surface missiles…as has been so well demonstrated when launched by one of our drones.

In any case, aside from any possible criminal or hostile interests having had a hand in that missile’s going astray this debacle may actually just be a case of hasty expediency that went awry. Apparently there was an urgent need for one to be available for a NATO exercise in Spain in 2014, so the manufacturer was asked to provide one for that purpose. After some amount of coordination between several government agencies involved, an export license was provided to the manufacturer, who then crated it up and shipped it commercially from Orlando, Florida to Madrid, Spain, in time to be part of that scheduled NATO exercise.

It’s when that exercise ended that things become a bit murky. Since it appears to have never formally been transferred to military control, it was technically still the manufacturer’s property, so it had the responsibility of getting that missile shipped back to the States. It did so, by re-packing it in its crate, properly marked with special handling stencils, and then shipping it via commercial trucking to Frankfurt, Germany (okay, no problem, we’re still in a NATO country). There it was further transshipped by another commercial trucking firm to Paris, France (not to worry…still NATO land, folks).

It’s at this point that things somehow become very scrambled. Despite its special handling markings, the crate then becomes part of a pallet load of “general cargo” which ends up on an Air France flight to Havana, Cuba (what’s the problem, we’re then only 90 miles from Miami, almost home), where it causes a bit of a puzzlement for the Cuban customs authorities. These understand about the American-Cuban détente but this kind of “détente” seems a bit much, so they sit on it waiting for the Americans to come looking for it. It only takes a year, but then diplomatic “negotiations” to get it back do take time.

Frankly, this whole situation smacks of a Hollywood Keystone Cops script. No one else could make this up.

So much for the security measures to preserve our advanced military technologies for ourselves. Those technologies are what give us the necessary edge in these very unstable times. We should be like rottweilers guarding a chunk of raw meat when it comes to these. Sensitive munitions and equipment of this sort should only be moved, by transferring them to military control first, and then, only transported by military means. There’s no excuse for not strictly abiding by that rule.

If not then we’re quite likely to end up with another episode of missile, missile…who the hell’s got our missile…or how to lose sensitive munitions without hardly trying…and faced with dealing with parties with whom we have no…détente…to try and get them back.