North Korean Missile Launch Fails, and a Show of Strength Fizzles

North Korean Missile Launch Fails, and a Show of Strength Fizzles, by Choe Sang-Hun.

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 American 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 American warships approached his country to deter provocations.

Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the United States 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 is still being assessed, he said.

American saboteurs?

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 Mr. Obama first accelerated the program.

In an unusually worded statement that left hanging the question of whether the United States played any role in the latest launch’s failure, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said: “The president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment.”

Annual military parade intended to demonstrate game-changing missile capabilities:

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. …

Mr. Kim … is acutely aware that the threat that he could soon possess — a missile that could strike the continental United States — is Washington’s biggest concern, and both the number and the variety of missiles he showed on Saturday seemed to be sending the message that a pre-emptive strike against his facilities would be fruitless.

While the North has repeatedly claimed that it can strike the United States with a nuclear warhead, it has never flight-tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of crossing the Pacific.