The Navy's effort to develop cruise missiles that could be fired out of submarines to hit enemy ships has run into trouble.

The Navy has failed on three of four attempts to flight-test that concept, with the last two failures occuring Tuesday off California's San Clemente Island.

Two Tomahawk cruise missiles, fired from the submerged nuclear attack sub Guitarro, broke through the surface of the Pacific and zoomed some 1,500 feet into the sky, only to tumble back into the ocean.

The missiles were carried aloft by a rocket engine designed to get them airborne. But the tiny jet engine that is supposed to take over from the rocket motor and fly the cruise missile to its target failed to start in both shots Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who was watching, said the failures told him "we need more tests for the submarine-launched missiles, and we will have more.

"This doesn't change my view at all about the cruise missiles," he added. "Particularly the air-launched cruise missile."

President Carter is betting heavily on the cruise missile to offset the Soviet buildup in strategic nuclear weapons. With Brown's support, he opted for the cruise missle over the B1 bomber.

Also, the administration has decided to open up some of the test of the cruise missiles to public view in hopes of taking the edge off the contention that the government is not doing enough to combat the Soviet strategic buildup.

Tuesday's failures undercut the administration's public-relations effort on behalf of the cruise missile, although such technical difficulties accompany almost every new weapons program.

Navy officials yesterday would say only that the causes for the failures Tuesday were being explored. Other sources said the quick sequence of events that must take place before the jet engine can start got fouled up.

In addition to those problems, Brown said that on the first Tomahawk launch on Tuesday there was "some sort of control surface failure" that caused the missile to "roll and tumble."

Both Tomahawk missiles were recovered from the Pacific. General Dynamics manufacturers the Tomahawk and is competing with Boeing for what is expected to be [WORD ILLEGIBLE] billion Pentagon contract to build air-launched cruise missiles to go aboard bombers.

As a result of Tuesday's failure with the submarine version of the Tomahawk, Brown said program may be delayed to build in additional testing time.