Saudi Arabia has approached China and Russia for a possible replacement for its ageing Chinese-made CSS-2 surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs), raising fears in Washington that the move could undermine Western non-proliferation efforts.

The Saudi defence minister, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, has held talks on the subject in both Moscow and Beijing in recent months, with Riyadh fearing that its existing liquid-fuelled missiles may no longer be reliable.

It was Prince Khalid who negotiated the original $3.5 billion deal for the CSS-2s, code-named East Wind, which were supplied in late 1987 after Washington refused to supply shorter-range Lance missiles and McDonnell Douglas F-15E strike fighters, under pressure from Israel.

Saudi Arabia is believed to have between 30 and 40 of the Chinese missiles, which have a range of up to 3,100km (1,700nm). Based at Al Sulayyil, 500km south of Riyadh, and at Al Leel, 100km south of Riyadh, the CSS-2 missiles are maintained by around 300 Chinese technicians.

The US Government, worried that the latest Saudi Arabian approaches might undermine the Missile Technology Control Regime - to which Saudi Arabia is not a party - has reportedly expressed its concern to Riyadh. The Middle Eastern kingdom is apparently ignoring the US approaches, pointing out that Washington continues to assist Israeli rocket projects.

Source: Flight International