The Hammerhead Gunship is the Tau's analogue to a tank. It has a distinctly piscine name and can be considered the Tau Empire's main battle tank, being a general purpose combat vehicle.
It can mount either a railgun or an ion cannon as its primary weapon. The railgun (S10, AP1 standard round or S6, AP4, Large blast with the submunition) really shines against both enemy armor and light infantry. And with a gnarly 72" range, the Hammerhead probably won't have to move much to go to work on the enemy. The ion cannon (S7, AP3, Heavy 3 or S8, AP3, Blast if Overcharged) costs the same amount of points, but without the +5 fee for the railgun's submunition mode. It will deal some hefty damage to heavy infantry and Monstrous Creatures (more than the railgun typically can since it has to choose between a single, powerful shot and weaker multiple hits) and can take out light armor if need be, though it lacks the railgun's power to punch through heavier vehicles. And with a 60" range, it'll be within striking distance almost as easily as the railgun. Forge World makes some additional primary weapon options for the Hammerhead—two long-barrelled burst cannons, twin-linked missile pods, two plasma cannons, or two fusion cannons. All are pretty good, with one major exception *cough*missile pod *unconvincing cough*.
Secondarily it is equipped with either a pair of independently targeting gun drones, a twin-linged pair of burst cannons, or a twin-linked smart missile system. The gun drones' advantage is that they are passengers and thus can fire on a different target or detach and act independently, and also have Pinning, but have lower accuracy than the other two options. The burst cannons as per current rules have the same range, strength, AP and rate of fire (18", 5, 5, 4) but put out moar dakka than the drones due to using hammerhead's BS of 4. The smart missile system, also has the same firepower, but can hit from a greater distance (30") and ignores cover and line of sight, and as it cost as much as burst cannons taking the former makes no sense. Most of the time though these secondary weapons are moot points unless there's an emergency, since the Hammerhead will usually try to stay outside ranges at which it needs to use them anyway, so most people take drones and detach them to press forward or create cover and distraction targets while Hammerhead stays on the back lines.
It has one point less armor in the front and sides than a Leman Russ Battle Tank, coming in at —13/12/10. Fluff says that it and the Leman Russ tank are more or less equally matched. Given the number of Leman Russes in existence compared to the number of Hammerheads, though...probably sucks to be a Hammerhead in the fluff. On the other hand, in the Taros Campaign the Imperial Guard lost five to six Russes for every Hammerhead destroyed, though considering they were waging war in the flat, open desert with no cover, under constant markerlight-guided missile barrage, and with supply lines being cut almost the second they were established, those statistics may be misleading. Unlike the Leman Russ, the Hammerhead is not intended to smash its way into enemy lines, instead hanging back and exploiting the 72" range of the railgun to put holes in the Tau's enemies while taunting them to try and rush it. It can be equipped with a disruption pod that gives it a 6+ cover save in the open and 3+ in ruins/fortifications, plus the Jink ability. All of this can help it remain much more survivable than it might be with its armor alone.
In 4th and 5th Editions, the Hammerhead competed with Broadside Battlesuits for heavy support slots. For roughly the same cost, a trio of Broadsides could put three twin-linked railgun shots on target compared to the single-shot Hammerhead. However, the Hammerhead could move further before shooting, and could fire the S6, AP4 large blast template to vaporize light infantry, while Broadsides could only, at best, bump off three soldiers with a lucky round of shooting. For the 6th Edition Codex, Games Workshop decided to "resolve" the conflict (read: give people a reason to spend their money on both Broadsides and Hammerheads) by changing the Broadside's main weapon to the "heavy rail rifle"—nerfed to S8, but with the option of getting Skyfire, making them a threat to flyers in a way that a lone Hammerhead never could be. Although admittedly this nerfing makes sense fluff-wise since the Hammerhead's railgun was always larger than a Broadside Battlesuit's.
Comparison to the Leman Russ
Design-wise, it's interesting to note that while the Russ looks like (as the Russ's 1d4chan article says) "A drunken three-way between an old British Mark-V, a M3 Lee, and a T-34", the Hammerhead looks more like the love child conceived after a night of red wine between an M1 Abrams and the U.S. Navy rail gun program. And then the child was spoiled rotten by Grandma Attack Helicopter.
Much like a cold war tank, the Hammerhead is low to the ground with good (if the model is any indication) gun depression (said to be from -10° to +28°) , with a main gun that can be either anti-tank or anti-infantry depending on its firing mode, while being blisteringly fast. Further, its role is more akin to a U.S. tank than a Soviet one, as western tanks were built to take on lots and lots of Soviet tanks at once. As mentioned, Hammerheads are almost always drastically outnumbered by Leman Russes. (Who are the communists supposed to be here, again?)
Tactically they fill the same niche as a modern tank, an element supporting mechanized infantry advancing very, very quickly, and taking out armor while using its machine guns on infantry, and The ion cannon fills a role similar to a Bradley's chain gun by taking out infantry and (if a modern military ever faced power armor) heavy infantry. While it does have rather fine armor, Hammerhead rely more on evasive maneuvers, disruption pods and straight up outranging it's opponents to survive, so it can potentially withstand twice to trice more anti-tank fire than most imperial tanks. The Leman Russ, on the other hand, is a World War II tank and it shows; it's much slower and has a much broader silhouette, but it's bristling with guns and relying purely on it's thick armor, while lacking more sophisticated defense systems.
"Shas'ui, I have spotted the Gue'la tanks sitting on the horizon line, twelve kilometers downrange! Engaging now!"
- Three seconds later* CLANG, KA-BOOM! The leman russ spontaneously explodes
Do note, however, that the Battle Cannon and Vanquisher Cannons do have a range of 72", too. So, uh, really there's no range advantage for the Hammerhead, though also note that Vanquisher cannons are more rare then Hammerhead rails guns.
|Forces of the Tau|
|Command:||Cadre Fireblade - Ethereal - Tau Commander|
|Troops:||Drone Squadron - Fire Warrior Team - Pathfinder Team - Stealthsuit Team|
|Auxiliaries:|| Great Knarloc - Kroot Carnivore Squad - Kroot Hound |
Krootox - Lesser Knarloc - Vespid Stingwing - Gue'vesa
|Battlesuits:|| Battlesuits (XV02 Pilot Battlesuit - XV15 Stealthsuit - XV22 Command Suit |
XV25 Stealthsuit - XV46 Vanguard Void Suit - XV-8 Crisis Battlesuit
XV88 Broadside Battlesuit - XV9 Hazard Battlesuit - XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit
XV104 Riptide Battlesuit - XV107 R'varna Battlesuit - XV109 Y'Vahra Battlesuit
KV128 Stormsurge Ballistic Suit - KX139 Ta'Unar Supremacy Armour)
|Vehicles:||Devilfish - Hammerhead - Piranha - Sky Ray - Tetra|
|Flyers:||Barracuda - Manta - Orca - Razorshark - Remora - Sun Shark - Tiger Shark|