The development of the anti-aircraft cruiser began in the late 1920s and early 1930s when the Royal Navy re-armed several of their WWI light cruisers to provide protection against aircraft for the larger warships. As naval air power became more and more predominant during WWII, measures had to be taken. In order to provide effective anti-aircraft defence. The first anti-aircraft cruisers were regular light or heavy cruisers, which were modified to carry additional anti-aircraft artillery. The first purpose built anti-aircraft cruiser was the British Dido class cruisers, completed shortly before the beginning of WWII. Having sacrificed their medium artillery for more anti-aircraft armament, the anti-aircraft cruisers often needed protection themselves against heavier surface units. At the battle of Guadalcanal, the US Navy lost two anti-aircraft cruisers due to enemy action.
Most post-WWII cruisers were tasked with air defense roles. In the early 1950s, advances in aviation technology forced the move from anti-aircraft artillery to anti-aircraft missiles. Therefore most cruisers of today are equipped with surface-to-air missiles as their main armament. The US Navy has operated a long line of classes of anti-aircraft cruisers (CLAA), starting with the Atlanta class. The modern equivalent of the anti-aircraft cruiser is the guided missile cruiser (CAG/CLG/CG/CGN).