New York Times News Service

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched a ballistic missile Sunday morning from near its submarine base in Sinpo on its east coast, but the launch was the latest in a series of failures just after liftoff, according to U.S. and South Korean military officials.

The timing was a deep embarrassment for the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, because the missile appeared to have been launched to show off his daring as a fleet of U.S. warships approached his country to deter provocations.

Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, said the military had “detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 11:21 a.m. Hawaii time April 15.”

The missile blew up almost immediately, and the type of missile involved was still being assessed, he said.

Over the past three years, a covert war over the missile program has broken out between North Korea and the United States. As the North’s skills grew, President Barack Obama ordered a surge in strikes against the missile launches, The New York Times reported last month, including through electronic-warfare techniques.

It is unclear how successful the program has been, because it is almost impossible to tell whether any individual launch failed because of sabotage, faulty engineering or bad luck. But the North’s launch-failure rate has been extraordinarily high since Obama first accelerated the program.

Hours before the unsuccessful test, three types of intercontinental ballistic missiles rolled through Pyongyang, the North’s capital, in an annual parade as the country tried to demonstrate that its military reach was expanding at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.

Kim watched from a platform surrounded by elderly military officers.

Saturday was the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. The United States, China and other regional powers had feared that North Korea might mark the occasion by conducting its sixth nuclear test or by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Instead, Kim seemed to have celebrated his grandfather’s birthday with a parade meant to demonstrate his missile capabilities.