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Laser designation is a fairly common method for guiding missiles and precision bombs, but how does it perform against aerial targets?

Given the ranges and kinematics involved, this method could be too challenging. I know the effectiveness is also dependent on atmospheric conditions, but what are the other limiting factors?

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    $\begingroup$ A F-15 shot down an airborne Hind: theaviationgeekclub.com/… $\endgroup$ – Eugene Styer Jul 13 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ The 9K121 Vikhr beam riding missiles, usually employed against armored targets, have a fusing mode specifically against airborne targets and a secondary warhead to increase their effectiveness in this mode, meaning there is some doctrinal belief in their effectiveness in this role. $\endgroup$ – AEhere supports Monica Jul 14 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ It might not be as hard as you think, especially if the helicopter is heading your direction (e.g. used as a defensive weapon, not interception weapon). All you need to do is to aim the laser on the target. It's more or less like aiming a rifle at a fast moving car. Compared with anti-helicopter rifles (e.g. M82A2), laser guided missiles looks quite usable. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 Jul 16 at 19:19
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There are a number of laser-guided ground-to-air systems, and a number of those have been adapted to air-to-air and air-to-ground as well. The key is the speed of the missile, not so much the guidance system itself. An example is Starstreak.

Lasers are well focused, but not perfectly, and are easy enough to defocus to any required degree. For this role, making the beam large enough to cover potential movement of the target during the tracking cycle (often manual) while still having enough energy fall on the target for the tracker to seek is pretty much all you need. Modern solid-state lasers make this relatively easy. However, unless you have a seeker in the munition, as is the case in a laser-guided bomb, then the cone-shaped beam means decreasing accuracy with range.

Starstreak takes another approach. It projects a 2D array of dots in space modulated so the receivers on the darts can tell where they are in the array. When used with the shoulder launcher, the operator keeps the beam on the target optically and the darts keep themselves in the center.

When combined with the optional launcher platform, a tracking camera is added. This receives the reflected laser signal from the target and uses the same modulation to determine how closely the array is to the center of the target. It uses this to automatically track the target, and thus the missiles get the benefit of semi-automatic tracking without having to carry the seeker on their nose.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Starstreak relies on beam riding, not target illumination. If painting is feasible, considering the difficulty of evasion, why are there no SAM systems that utilize it? Could APKWS or Hellfire engage a rotary-wing aircraft painted by a SOFLAM or the likes? $\endgroup$ – Flare Jul 17 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Starstreak Lightweight Multiple Launcher has IR search and laser (lidar) tracking in addition to the guidance beam. There is an air-to-air version under development as well. SAM systems do not use it because they generally don't have the Starstreak's mission - which is to engage helicopters flying behind trees. If you are looking to shoot down aircraft "in the clear", a radar system is dramatically more economical and long-legged. As to Hellfire, I believe it HAS engaged a helo, but I'd have to look that up. $\endgroup$ – Maury Markowitz Jul 19 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ And we should not forget the RBS 70 as well, although that is purely beam-riding. $\endgroup$ – Maury Markowitz Jul 19 at 11:41

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