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Vehicle Tactica
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Old 20 Apr 2009, 23:58   #1 (permalink)
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Default Vehicle Tactica

Tau Vehicle Tactica

In the opinion of some players, it is the selection of vehicles in the Tau arsenal that make them a civilization worth playing! They are excellent models, some of them able to deploy as more than one type of vehicle, and all of them are skimmers. There are two basic kinds, the smaller, lighter Piranha, and the larger workhorse vehicles based on the Devilfish chassis. The Devilfish models can be further categorized as transports (Devilfish) or heavies (Hammerhead and Skyray). One thing to note about the models themselves, before I get into actual tactica, is that a Hammerhead kit contains all the sprue from the Devilfish kit and the Skyray contains all of the sprue from the Hammerhead. With the small price difference between the Devilfish box and the Skyray box, in most cases it's best to buy a Skyray box even if a Devilfish is all you expect to need.


Piranhas are the smallest and fastest of the Tau vehicles. They have the Fast and Skimmer rules, so they can move up to 24 inches across the table if they don't shoot. They are somewhat similar to the Imperium's Land Speeder, but with the important addition of an extra point of armor on the front. While it may seem trivial, that extra point means that regular troop weapons (other than the Tau pulse rifle) can't even glance a Piranha from the front. Taking one down requires a flank shot or bigger guns.

Piranhas can be deployed in squadrons of up to 5, and they always carry two gun drones each. The drones can be used as extra firepower on the vehicle, or they can detach and function like a Fast Attack gun drone squadron. Which would be more useful depends on which weapon you mount on the piranha. The standard one comes with a burst cannon, which complements the gun drones' pulse carbine quite well, so burst cannon Piranhas can keep their drones unless firepower is needed in two places at the same time. With their firepower they excel at killing light troops, and can even take down vehicles if they get a shot at the rear armor. Piranhas can make good mobile roadblocks or harassing units with their speed.

A popular variant of the Piranha replaces the burst cannon with a fusion blaster. Since the fusion blaster is an anti-vehicle weapon, the gun drones don't complement it as well. Unless the vehicle has a target lock (described later), the gun drones are of little use against the heavy vehicles that are the targets of a fusion blaster, so they should probably be detached and operated independently. fusion blaster equipped Piranhas are viable alternatives to crisis suits or railguns when dealing with heavy vehicles, although like much of the rest of the Tau force, they are too fragile to stand up to a slugging match, particularly with anything worthy of a fusion blaster shot. In a duel between a large tank and a squad of Piranhas, victory likely goes to the first shot, but the Piranhas have the mobility to decide who gets that shot.


Moving up in size, point cost, and armor values we come to the Devilfish. The Devilfish is a dedicated transport attached to either a fire warrior or pathfinder squad. While it is a transport, capable of carrying 12 infantry models, it is very different from Imperium dedicated transports like the Rhino or Razorback. It is more expensive, faster, and tougher, as well as being a skimmer rather than a traditional vehicle. The Devilfish can be used and configured for two main roles. It can be primarily a transport, or it can be used as a light tank as well. In the first role, it is usually equipped with just a burst cannon and a pair of gun drones like a standard Piranha. More expensive variants replace the gun drones with a smart missile system. A fully-equipped Devilfish packs firepower comparable to a full fire warrior squad, but is more mobile and tougher. This configuration is affectionately known as the "Warfish".


Next up is the Hammerhead, considered by many to be one of the best tanks in the game. It is quite configurable, with two choices of primary weapon, three choices of secondary weapon, and the support options common to all Tau vehicles. The most popular primary weapon is the mighty railgun, capable of punching through any armor or dropping a large blast submunition on softer targets. Cheaper and slightly less popular is the ion cannon, which is one of the best weapons available for killing Space Marines and their equivalents. (Hammerheads are often called Railhead or Ionhead, depending on which weapon they have.) The secondary weapon system can be a pair of burst cannons, a smart missile system, or a pair of gun drones. The burst cannons are the most popular, followed by the smart missile system. Few players use the gun drones on a Hammerhead. Since the secondary weapon system has very different stats from the primary one, Hammerheads often include a target lock (see below).


Last but not least we have the Skyray, which is a heavily-modified Hammerhead. The secondary weapon system choices are the same, but the primary weapon system becomes a pair of network markerlights and six seeker missiles. The Skyray also comes with a built-in target lock. Looking at the weapon statistics of a Skyray, it is easy to think it's just an alternative to the ion cannon Hammerhead. While it can be used that way, that misses the point. The Skyray carries two markerlights, and they are surrounded by a heavily armored shell that can fire them both at up to ballistic skill 4 while moving at cruising speed. While more expensive per shot than other sources of markerlights, the Skyray is the toughest and fastest one available.

Vehicle Accessories

Tau vehicles can be equipped with many different accessories. With a few exceptions, any of the systems can be added to any of the vehicles.

Multi-tracker: Makes any of the vehicles shoot as if they were Fast, meaning they can fire a single primary weapon at cruising speed or all weapons at combat speed. The vehicle does not actually become Fast, so its top speed is still cruising, not flat out. Multi-trackers are almost a necessity on the heavies, and common on Devilfish, but unnecessary on Piranhas since they are already Fast.

Targeting Array: Increases the vehicle's ballistic skill to 4. Targeting Arrays are included on the Hammerhead, and very cheap on the rest. Basically mandatory on everything but the cheapest Devilfish.

Target Lock:
Allows the vehicle to fire different weapons at different targets. It's included in the price of the Skyray, and almost mandatory on Hammerheads. It also makes some sense on fusion blaster Piranhas, but this is rare.

Disruption Pod: Basically mandatory on all vehicles. The disruption pod gives the vehicle a 4+ cover save against all fire from beyond 12 inches away. This basically doubles their life-span against non-melee attacks and would be a bargain at twice its price!

Blacksun Filter:
The Blacksun filter doubles the distance of a Night-Fighting check in the first turn of a Dawn of War game. Because of the long range of the Hammerhead's main weapons, it is sometimes added to them. It is also useful on a Skyray since markerlights can be used to automatically pass night-fighting checks.

Seeker Missiles: Any vehicle (except the Skyray that already has six) can carry up to two seeker missile into battle. The seeker missiles count as being fired by the unit that used the markerlight token, so seeker missiles can detach from a Piranha that moved 24 inches in the previous movement phase.

Flechette Launchers: Flechette launchers wound half of any squad that assaults a vehicle equipped with them. Whether this option is a bargain or a waste of points depends on the armor save of the opposing troops. Against Space Marines it's not very useful, but against orcs or tyranids it can thin out the squad quite a bit.

Sensor Spines: These allow a vehicle to end its turn in difficult terrain without testing for being immobilized. This allows it to safely get a cover save as an obscured target. While this works at any range (unlike the disruption pod), the situations where the sensor spines are better for providing cover than a disruption pod are rare. Where the spines are occasionally useful is for evacuating infantry from cover. If the infantry squad has to roll difficult terrain while you're avoiding a dangerous terrain check on the Devilifish, then the infantry squad might not be able to move far enough to get in. With sensor spines, the Devilfish can safely enter the terrain, improving the odds that the infantry can reach it.

Decoy Launchers: This was the mandatory gear in 4th edition, but in 5th it isn't very useful. A vehicle with decoy launchers can reroll an Immobilized result on the glancing hit table. Possibly worth considering on Piranhas since they can move fast enough to crash with an immobilized result, but pointless on anything else.

Vehicle Movement

Piranhas can move up to 12 inches (cruising speed) and fire all of their weaponry including the drones, or they can move up to 24 inches but not fire anything. If moving at the faster speed they get a 4+ cover save from being so hard to keep in the sights. This cover save does not stack with the one from a disruption pod, but a Piranha with a disruption pod can gain the cover save either way.

The larger vehicles have to hold still to fire all their weapons unless they are equipped with multi-trackers. With the multi-trackers, a Hammerhead or Devilfish can fire all its weapons at combat speed or a single weapon at cruising speed. (Seeker missiles do not count, since they are fired by the unit that uses the markerlight counter).

Since the markerlights on a Skyray are considered defensive weapons, the Skyray is actually more mobile than its cousins. A Skyray with multi-tracker moving at cruising speed could fire both its markerlights plus one additional weapon.

Example builds and their uses

Railhead with burst cannons, multi-tracker, targeting array, target lock, and disruption pod. Weighing in at 170 points, this is probably the most common heavy support choice. If no targets are within burst cannon range, this vehicle usually moves at cruising speed and fires the railgun at an appropriate target anywhere on the board. With twelve inches of movement and six feet of range, it's very hard to hide from one of these. At closer distances, the railhead will move more slowly so it can discourage enemy infantry with the burst cannons as well as firing another railgun shot at another high priority target. If necessary, the burst cannons can fire at different targets from each other, perhaps to finish off a single model that has so far escaped death. A slight problem with the burst cannons is that most things they target at 18 inches away will be within 12 inches next turn, denying the cover save from the disruption pod. Also, if the tank moves at only combat speed to fire all its weapons, anything that can reach it in the assault phase will hit on 4's rather than 6's. The ion cannon variant works the same except for its choice of target and the fact that it costs only 135 points.

Piranha with fusion blaster, targeting array, and two seeker missiles. While this build carries gun drones, they are basically irrelevant. This is a "glass hammer" of a vehicle killer. It can move up to 24 inches to position the seeker missile strike, while gaining a cover save from sheer speed. That sheer speed gives it enough range to touch the enemy's deployment zone in a pitched battle in turn one. If you play second and your opponent was considerate enough to move a tank forward in his turn one, the seeker missiles will now strike that tank on the rear armor! Once the missiles are gone, the Piranha closes to within 6 inches of a vehicle or swoops around behind it to finish it off with the fusion blaster. 90 points, including the seeker missiles.

Devilfish with flechette launchers and disruption pod. This version, occasionally called spinefish or lionfish, has no multi-tracker and will likely never fire its weapons. It is a transport designed to assist in the Fish of Fury tactic where the vehicle screens fire warriors from an assault. The disruption pod improves its lifespan, but the flechette launchers are what make the trick work. Often, the only way to defeat fish of fury is to assault the vehicle, but the flechettes make that more dangerous. If the vehicle moved at cruising speed, even Space Marines will come out behind when assaulting it. 95 points.

Fish of Fury is a tactic from 4th edition that,while less popular now, is still valid. You move a transport or two up to an enemy squad such that the back of the transport is about 10 inches away. Fire warriors drop out of the back of the vehicle and rapid-fire their pulse rifles. If the technique is done properly, the survivors of the enemy squad can't reach the fire warriors for assault because the vehicles are in the way. Under 5th edition rules, the vehicles usually grant a cover save against the fire going under them, which limits the effectiveness of the technique. This is not bad against space marines or eldar that get an armor save anyway, but against a squad with a 5+ armor save or worse the technique isn't as useful.

Devilfish with smart missiles, multi-tracker, targeting array, and disruption pod. This is the classic "warfish", which is a light tank as well as a transport. At cruising speed it gets a respectable 2.7 pulse rifle equivalent hits within 24 inches, shooting around corners if necessary. At combat speed this becomes 4.7 hits within 18 inches: almost as much as a 10-man squad of fire warriors outside of rapid fire range. 120 points.

Pathfinder Devilfish with multi-tracker, disruption pod, targeting array, and 2 seeker missiles. If pathfinders start the game in reserve and riding in their transport, then the Devilfish inherits their Scout rule and the Outflank option that comes with it. The Devilfish can come in from the side and put those two seeker missiles into the rear or side arc of an enemy tank. Note that this version of the Devilfish has a multi-tracker and only one weapon, so it can fire both the burst cannon and the drones while at cruising speed. This one will deliver 3.1 hits at cruising speed, very slightly more than the warfish. 120 points, including seeker missiles.

Note that since the pathfinders must be inside their Devilfish for it to outflank, this trick requires another source of markerlights, namely..

Skyray with smart missiles, multi-tracker, disruption pod, targeting array, target lock, and blacksun filter. This is the other large vehicle build that can fire all its weapons at cruising speed. Since neither smart missiles nor seeker missiles require line of sight, one way to use this vehicle is to hide it behind something until the seekers are gone, at which point it takes over markerlight duties. This works particularly well when combined with a pathfinder squad. The combination of eight pathfinders and the Skyray's own markerlights (if you choose not to hide it) has an excellent chance of launching all six missiles in the first round. If there is an appropriate target for such a thing (opposing crisis team, devastor squad, necron immortals, etc.), it can be a devastating opening salvo! Once the Skyray's missile rack is empty, your opponent is fairly likely to ignore it. 175 points.

Another use of this build is to come forward as far as possible when arriving at a Dawn of War mission. The blacksun filter will allow it to markerlight two enemy units, which can then be fired on by some big guns like a crisis or broadside team without worrying about the night fighting check. It's a far more efficient use of points than putting a blacksun filter on each suit!


A lot of Tau players focus on either the battlesuits or massed pulse rifle fire from fire warrior gun lines. While this is a valid way to play, you should not discount the vehicle options, as the Tau get some of the best. Combining the mobility of our skimmers, the range of some of our weapons, and the tricks you can play with seeker missiles means nothing is safe from a vehicle-heavy army. While it's expensive, the Devilfish is the backbone of any mechanized list, and what saves the Tau play style from feeling like xeno Imperial Guard. Also, keep in mind that a mixture of vehicles tends to work better than a single phalanx of three identical Hammerheads (although those can be nasty too). Finally, don't discount the Skyray, especially with its superior mobility under 5th edition rules.

EDIT: Explained Fish of Fury, and added a use for the sensor spines that I had forgotten.
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 00:07   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

Good write up for 5th ed. vehicle tactics.
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 10:12   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

actually if i remember correctly, in 5th edition the pirhana can only move up to 18 inches. but on ROAD it gets an additional 6 inches (which all vehicle gets) for a total of 24 inches which wont let it fire anything.
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 11:45   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

Originally Posted by trashman
actually if i remember correctly, in 5th edition the pirhana can only move up to 18 inches. but on ROAD it gets an additional 6 inches (which all vehicle gets) for a total of 24 inches which wont let it fire anything.
You would be right, if the Piranha would be a "normal" vehicle. Fast Skimmers can still move up to 24", but they do not get the road-bonus.

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Old 21 Apr 2009, 13:47   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

Isn't it possible to buy a Devilfish as a non-dedicated troop choice? It's entry is there in the troop section. Or must you necessarily purchase one from the Fire Warriors and Pathfinders codex entry?
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 15:06   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

Nice pointers! I have heard there are some advanced tactics to use with the Devilfish when transporting a warrior squad... the term "fish of fury" comes to mind, although I am not 100% clear on how this works. Would this be the place to expand on it?
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 17:17   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

mattv2099, Devilfish are a dedicated transport only.

Daeghrefn, the Fish of Fury is really a 4th Ed tactic that allowed you to shoot and scoot without being charged by the enemy. In 5th Ed however, Fish of Fury is dead in its old form. There are some less effective variations around in 5th but they aren't nearly as popular as the original "FoF".
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 19:53   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Vehicle Tactica

Originally Posted by mattv2099
Isn't it possible to buy a Devilfish as a non-dedicated troop choice? It's entry is there in the troop section. Or must you necessarily purchase one from the Fire Warriors and Pathfinders codex entry?
Originally Posted by Nox
mattv2099, Devilfish are a dedicated transport only.

Daeghrefn, the Fish of Fury is really a 4th Ed tactic that allowed you to shoot and scoot without being charged by the enemy. In 5th Ed however, Fish of Fury is dead in its old form. There are some less effective variations around in 5th but they aren't nearly as popular as the original "FoF".
From the rulebook FAQ:

Q. My Imperial Guard or Black Templar Codex says that dedicated transports can only be used by the unit they’ve been bought for. Is that overruled by the new way dedicated transports work in 5th Edition?
A. No, if a Codex clearly says that dedicated transports can only be used during the game by the unit that bought them, that overrules the general rule in the rulebook, as normal. Obviously some armies are stricter than others about transport regulations!
Since it doesn't say anything about it specifically transporting the unit it's attached to in the codex it's free to move around other squads after the game starts, and I can't think of a reason to drop one down without being attached to a squad (if such an option existed (and it doesn't unless I'm misinterpreting something)) as you could get much more firepower out of a similarly priced squad of... anything in whatever force org spot it would take.
Originally Posted by enderwiggin
I can honestly say that if ML's were changed to Assault 1 that there would be an entire sub-set of Tau players ruining the front of their pants while an entire group of opponents would be ruining the back of their pants.
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 20:25   #9 (permalink)
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Sorry Mister Kay I should have been clearer when I was posting. :-[

I believe that mattv2099 was asking if you can buy the vehicle as a troop choice without the FWs or Pathfinders. My responce was meant to imply that it had to be purchased as a dedicated transport (in other words, with a FW squad) and could not be purchased independently. I did not mean to imply that it couldn't carry other units after it enters play. You are indeed correct in your assumption that it can move to other squads after the game starts.
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Old 21 Apr 2009, 20:32   #10 (permalink)
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Ad Sensor Spines - I use them for my Hammerhead, since the upgrade allows the tank to get to a better firing position. Combined with the Disruption Pod, I do not have to worry about carefully hiding the tank behind terrain, since the Cover Save still applies, regardless of the portion of the vehicle displayed to the enemy, while I am free to get to a position as high as possibble to deny the 50% obstruction Save to the enemy.

During my last game this tactics proved lethal to enemy armour, since I placed the Hammerhead on a terrain feature, effectively doubling the height of the tank. The turret-mounted Railgun then had a nice view of the majority of the enemy armour and it made good use of it.
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