A U.S. Navy helicopter unintentionally dropped a set of five missiles into the Pacific Ocean in an area near the coast of California in mid-June and still hasn’t found them, despite search efforts to recover the weapons. The incident was first revealed this week.
Navy spokesperson Brian O’Rourke told NBC San Diego that a rigging failure on a MH-60s Knighthawk caused the helicopter to drop two containers carrying a total of five RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles on June 17. The missiles are used as a point-defense weapon to defend warships against anti-ship missiles.
Newsweek reported the helicopter was flown by Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 and was attempting to deliver the missiles to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) during operations in the east Pacific.
Efforts to recover the lost missiles are still underway. The cause of the incident is also under investigation.
“The U.S. Navy has not placed any time constraints on the effort to locate the missing ordnance,” read a Navy statement provided to NBC San Diego. “We remain committed to leveraging all resources, including collaborating with local agencies, to locate and recover the missiles.”
O’Rourke told NBC San Diego that the lost missiles are missing key parts and it is unlikely that they will detonate underwater.
Naval Air Forces spokesman Ensign Bryan Blair similarly told Navy Times that the missiles are not likely to detonate “as they were encapsulated for shipping and missing key components for activation.”
“We remain committed to leveraging all resources, including collaborating with local agencies, to locate and recover the missiles,” Blair added.
No personnel were injured and the helicopter was undamaged after losing its hold on the five missiles. The loss of the missiles was still classified as a Class-A mishap, the most severe mishap label. Class-A mishaps are any incident that results in the death or permanent total disability of an individual or which results in $2.5 million worth of damage to equipment.
According to military weapons sales figures, each RIM-116 missile costs about $900,000. Five RIM-116 missiles have a value of about $4.5 million total.
According to a Navy fact sheet, the RIM-116 missile is “a lightweight, quick-reaction, fire-and-forget missile designed to destroy anti-ship cruise missiles and asymmetric air and surface threats.” The missile was intended to be a relatively low-cost means of protecting warships. The missiles are employed on U.S. amphibious landing ships, landing platform dock ships, carriers, and littoral combat ships.
Each missile is about 9 feet long and weighs about 164 pounds.