In this article, laser fighter jets would be relagated to sub sonic speeds and fly low to avoid being shot at. That would mean that they would be closer to the ground and thus be more vulnerable to AAA fire.

So what I'm wondering is, would the flak fire, similar to WW2, be effective assuming modern targeting systems?

  • $\begingroup$ flak is already used to take out missiles why wouldn't work on slow planes. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 3 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ I think the probability of autonomous drones is more likely than laser weapons in the future and lasers on planes basically make no sense if you can put them in orbit instead. Lasers make a far better overwatch or sniper weapon than aerial combat weapon so a future with high flying drones engaging each other while being sniped from orbit is a far more likely scenario in my personal opinion. That said, I think the answer to your specific question is Yes, not only to take out the aircraft but also to disrupt the laser as well by putting chaff in the way. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Dec 3 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ isn't it just AA, anti-air, what is the third A for? $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Dec 3 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Anti Aircraft Artillery $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Dec 5 at 4:10

Flak is still valid

The whole point of flak is that you don't need to hit something. All you need to do is shoot in front of the plane and it flies into a cloud of high speed metal fragments.

If you look at the Russian BUK anti aircraft missiles such as the one that shot down flight MH17, it's design to explode near the aircraft and spray fragments leaving the aircraft looking like a colander.

Flak would be more effective than lasers in shooting down low flying aircraft.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that most modern anti-air missiles don't actually spray fragments, but instead expand a series of closed "daisy-cutter" loops of wire. $\endgroup$ – ikrase 2 days ago

Flak are still so effective that stealth planes are developed for the very purpose of countering them.

Airplanes with low radar, IR, EM and sound emission can fly at lower elevation and have a higher chance of being unnoticed and thus not being targeted from the ground.

The real question you should ask is: once I have an enemy attacking with a stealth plane, how can I be sure that I can counter it?


As noted, automatic cannon and naval deck guns are used as anti aircraft/anti missile weapons today, and some forms of C-RAM (Counter Rocket, Artillery, Missile) weapons are essentially CWIS mounted on trucks.

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Truck mounted CWIS system

This deals with incoming rocket projectiles, artillery shells and so on, which are far more difficult targets than enemy aircraft and UVA/UCAV's. You would probably expect something like that to be around enemy high value targets and installations. Gun based GBAD is still very much alive in most armies which have GBAD systems, anything from a .50 BMG mounted on an American AVENGER to Russian systems with twin 30mm cannon paired with anti aircraft missiles.

enter image description here

GBAD based on an MRAP chassis

enter image description here

Russian Tunguska-M1, armed with 4 SAMs and 2 30mm automatic cannon

Stealth aircraft, UAV and UCAV's will be particularly challenging, but if the adversary is aware that this is a threat, then they will invest heavily in sensor networks that provide as much warning as possible, as well as visual sighting and aiming of weapons as a last ditch backup. The fact that the air vehicle is armed with a laser isn't a magic wand, lasers have several limitations including heat buildup, mirror aiming, pointing, stabilization and cycling time, so a stream of high velocity cannon shells isn't going to be intercepted and shot down by the laser. Other possible counter measures include mounting the GBAD on the high features to "shoot down" at marauding aircraft flying NOE profiles, this might disadvantage the aircraft, especially if the laser is belly mounted and thus has no opportunity to fire back.

Lasers and stealth are not "magic", but simply technical solutions to some tactical problems. An adversary, especially a near peer one who is aware of the problem will work hard to develop countermeasures, ensuring a continuing dance between offence and defence.


I don't really think flak like you see in WW2 footage will ever make a comeback. There's no need for proximity-fuzed saturation fire. We have computers that can aim anti-aircraft artillery incredibly precisely and missiles that can home in on their target. Both of these work better than say, the Flak 36 the Germans used to shoot down Allied strategic bombers. For every bomber shot down by flak, the Germans fired hundreds or even thousands of rounds of flak; the vast majority of which missed completely. This would not be the case with modern weaponry.

One caveat is in an anti-missile role. Missiles are a lot harder to hit, so we actually do use flak even today.

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    $\begingroup$ Still, a thousand flak shells are a lot cheaper than one ground-air-missile, and than the bomber they took down. $\endgroup$ – Burki Dec 3 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki I agree. But 20-30 shells from a radar-guided anti-aircraft gun like a Shilka are even cheaper. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZSU-23-4_Shilka $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Dec 3 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ 20-30 shells may have a greater chance of hitting if they explode into many-meters-wide welded rod patterns. $\endgroup$ – ikrase 2 days ago

The short version is probably not.

Even if we take the type of aircraft he describes as a given, which is a huge given, it would still be vastly faster and more agile than WW2 aircraft, and thus much harder to hit. Any aircraft that are used in an environment with lasers will all be drones or drone control aircraft that stay out of the direct line of sight and thus fire. You could also just as easily adopt the insane Dale Brown approach and go with bomber-fighters in the form of strategic bombers turned into giant fighters and UAV carriers(please don't actually do this).

Hitting an aircraft like this, assuming it also has defensive lasers, would be all but impossible because its own lasers could shoot down your anti aircraft fire.

An additional problem is the nature of anti-aircraft fire. The type of guns you would need would need to be massed in significant quantities and could each only cover a small area. The reason missiles replaced guns was that guns could only cover tiny areas, not much better than current shoulder fired missiles. Against modern standoff weapons this is virtually useless against anything other than helicopters or low performance drones.

Also, if you have lasers that are so effective that they have driven aircraft into niche roles, don't build ancient antiaircraft weapons to counter those niche roles. Just build more lasers. They'll almost certainly be more cost effective.

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  • $\begingroup$ Two things. First, the point of flak is actually NOT to hit the target aircraft. Instead, it is meant to explode in the general vicinity of its target, producing lots of concussion and shrapnel. You actually do NOT want flak to explode too close to its target, as then the shrapnel does not have time to disperse. Secondly, WWII-era flak cannons like the KwK 36 (the famous "long 88") are actually pretty cheap to make. Also, they very good against "soft armor" like the ablative armor that tanks would use to counter lasers. $\endgroup$ – thescribe Dec 3 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ Also lasers are useless for countering bullets, a laser can't' deliver enough heat fast enough to destroy a bullet before hte bullet hits its target. Lasers are oddly slow weapons. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 5 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @John : I totally agree; those Dr. Who episodes where the Dalek shields evaporate metal bullets are complete BS. $\endgroup$ – thescribe 2 days ago

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