From: Washington D.C.
1.) So, if the box is checked, should I expect better performance?
2.) Does the AI actually use the laser designator for its attack, even though it never checks the box indicating its use?
Yes. It will activate automatically if possible. If a platform cannot self designate (e.g. clouds obsure the target), it will look for a "buddy" illuminator.
3.) If the box is not checked by AI, does that mean that it isn't on?
I don't know, I've never paid attention. I'll have to look.
4.) Why wouldn't an attacking plane ALWAYS use a laser designator if it's available? That seems like a no-brainer. (BTW, the weather is not a factor.
Not necessarily. There may be certain advantages to using buddy lasing. For example, in a CAS scenario, the guys on the ground may have a specific target in mind for the aircraft and rather than trying to "talk him" onto the target, it's easier and faster to just lase it themselves. Similarly, a Predator might have located a target in advance, removing the necessity of self-designation.
5.) I was always under the impression that attacks handled via a Mission or by the AI would make the "appropriate" or "best" decision for the attack without having me being involved. Is that the actual case?
Not by a long shot. They're not necessarily unreasonable decisions, but they're not necessarily "appropriate" or "best" either. That's part of why there's an ever-expanding list of options in the mission editor. I'm a big fan of starting with the mission editor, and then tweaking it to serve my own purposes. The given altitudes, speeds, ingress routes, etc. are really just a point a departure. Generally, there needs to be a person in the loop for Command. Your goal is to out-think your enemy, given the resources you have available. For example: I'm working on a scenario where some USMC aircraft need to fly past a SAG armed with lots of SAMs. You can either try to destroy the SAG or you can try to sneak past it. To sneak past it, you need to fly REALLY low with F/A-18s. The F-35s, on the other hand, can breeze right past it so long as they keep their distance. The mission planner doesn't care which aircraft you use, it'll plan the strike's route basically the same way. You can't really rely on it to make the "best" decision (assuming there is a "best" decision).