Yup, the box rules on AA guns are confusing and contradictory. Part of the problem arises from the fact that a combat action (AA fire) occurs during phases other than the Conduct Combat phase*. Even if you exclude NCM, they would still fire during the Combat Move phase, during which no other combat occurs. In fact, the only air unit movement that occurs during the Conduct Combat phase is landing the planes after the battle (yes, it’s true, attacking air units land during the Conduct Combat phase in the box rules, not during NCM - see page 18). So, if you wanted to be completely consistent and have AA guns fire only in the Conduct Combat phase, they’d only fire at planes returning home after battles are over!
As a result of all this, the rules needed to draw clear lines to handle the inherent contradictions. Unfortunately, they didn’t. The fact is that you can quote rules that support AA guns firing in NCM, and you can quote rules that oppose it, as you’ve already shown. As I said, the rules are unclear, and even contradictory. Since the FAQ doesn’t address the subject at all, it’s no help. However, there is one place that we can find a definitive answer. The game comes with an insert called “Revised Orders” that outlines the changes between Classic and Revised (in a rather confusing format). On the third page, the following entry appears:
Then: Antiaircraft guns could fire only on attacking air units on their way into combat.
Now: Now they can fire on air units whenever they are overflown.
Why: It seemed more logical, and it’s easier to administer.
From this entry, we can see that it was the designers’ intent that AA guns always fire when flown over. Unfortunately, the authors of the rulebook didn’t convey that concept clearly, as the rules on this point are so inconclusive that we need to go to a supplemental insert for clarification. I hope this clears things up.
- This problem of AA fire is a direct result of moving it from the Combat Move phase (where it was in Classic) to the Conduct Combat phase. While it would seem to make sense that combat should occur in a combat phase, putting AA fire in this phase creates the contradiction that a combat action occurs outside of that phase (during plane movement). This contradiction was the major reason that AA guns were changed to only fire in the territory being attacked in AA50 and AA42.