Skyray Missile Gunship
Oh, the Skyray.
Sweet, beautiful, underappreciated Skyray.
It will never be as common as the Hammerhead, or Broadside Battlesuit teams, nor will it ever be as celebrated, and yet it remains there, acting as the favorite Heavy Support choice of Ninja and Infiltration Tau strategies everywhere. Notable mostly for the rather unique (and useful, dammit!) rules behind its main weapon, a battery of 6 seeker missiles, it is a fairly versatile weapon platform. Unfortunately, it's pricey, and takes up the oh-so-essential heavy support choice slot in a given Tau Army—which, unless the army in question is either heavily focused on mobility or has more than the usual ass-load of markerlights in it, generally isn't a nice thing.
The TX78 Sky Ray Missile Defense Gunship serves the Tau Empire as a perimeter and air-defense vehicle. Based on the Devilfish chassis, it is armed with deadly Seeker Missiles for the application of accurate firepower. They are rarely encountered in large numbers, with usually a single Sky Ray per Hunter Cadre, though more may be stationed to defend important targets. The Sky Ray is a known supporter with the policy on the "Macross Missile Massacre" which is the over reliance on killing the enemy with countless amount of missiles till it resembles explosive rain. The Imperium Deathstrike Missile Launcher and Manticore Launcher Tank are also firm supporters of the policy.
Still, it's a fun vehicle and genuinely useful if used correctly, so it gets a nod here.
Each of the Sky Ray's Seeker Missiles are guided by the vehicle's marker light target designators. The marker lights usually scour the sky to find and lock-on to enemy aircraft, then the automated systems of the Sky Ray quickly calculate how many missiles are needed to kill the assailant (from 1 to 6), which depends upon target type, speed and range. The Seeker Missiles are so fast and accurate that enemy pilots often don't have time to react and take evasive maneuvers (unless if it is an Eldar of course, those fuckers can evade anything).
The Sky Rays are also used in a ground assault role, but they can't operate for too long because of a lack of ammunition. So most Tau commanders avoid using them in ground operations.
Theres normally only a single Sky Ray attached to a Hunter Cadre, so they are rarely encountered in great numbers. Also a Sky Ray may be included as a part of defending force for Tau airfields, headquarters or other important or vulnerable locations.
Weaponry & Armour
The Sky Ray carries six Seeker Missiles mounted in a 360° traversable turret. It also mounts a pair of networked Markerlights and a Target Lock support system, allowing the Sky Ray to aim and fire its own Seeker Missiles against two separate targets at once. Secondary armament is either a pair of independently-aimed burst cannons, a pair of Gun Drones or a Smart Missile System. This weaponry is aimed and fired by the Sky Ray's dedicated weapons operator.
In addition to its standard weapons, control and communications systems, the Sky Ray is equipped with retractable landing skids and can be further modified with additional upgrades, though it lacks room for mounting additional Seeker Missiles.
The Sky Ray is protected by the same nano-crystalline alloy used in the armour of other Tau vehicles, the composition of which is as yet unknown. While lightweight and malleable, the metal is strong and corrosive-resistant, providing good protection while cutting down on weight, improving the vehicle's speed and flight characteristics. However, the Sky Ray does not mount as much armour as seen on the Hammerhead Gunship which, combined with its limited ammunition, resulted in most Tau Commanders avoiding their use in protracted ground engagements.
The Skyray itself is a gunship—a classification the Tau have also given to the Hammerhead, since it's designed to be a support unit. It boasts surprisingly heavy armor (for a Tau vehicle), and has the natural ability of Tau vehicles to pack on a field and get a cover save. What truly sets it apart from other vehicles, however, is that its main weapon—seeker missiles—don't quite work like any other weapon in 40k.
Fans of the Imperial Guard have a love-hate relationship with the Hunter-Killer Missile. Whilst it can give a vehicle first-strike punch due to its unlimited range, it usually costs too much and is too wonky to be considered a serious anti-vehicle option. The Skyray gets around this problem by means of simply being a carrier for a large number of the Tau's nifty-swell precision-guided missiles—and is noteworthy in that it is not the source of its own missile attacks (usually).
See, when Tau Pathfinders or the like markerlight something, the markerlight counters are normally spendable on improving a unit's BS, or reducing an enemy's cover save. If you have a Skyray, you can spend a point launching one of the Skyray's seeker missiles at it. These missiles not only boast unlimited range as well as firepower equal to a Hunter-Killer missile, but they don't even need line of sight to drop a missile strike. In other words, the Skyray can provide long-range support and provide multiple simultaneous and devastating defensive missile strikes as long as it has markerlight support. It's particularly effective at butt-fucking Tyranid monstrous creatures and light or medium armor that thought it had a helpless unit for prey, not realizing that the squad could call in a cruise missile from the Skyray.
In a pinch, the Skyray has 2 markerlights of its own—and yes, it can lock and fire its own missiles in said pinch. If that's not enough, it also can pack burst cannons, drones, or a smart missile system (the latter being widely acknowledged as the better option) to deal with infantry units or
heavy infantry, respectively S5, AP5 won't really cut it against heavy infantry. With its solid armor, the Skyray won't usually suffer for the change of pace, since no matter what action it takes—shooting its main weapons, dropping markerlights, or even parked in your deployment zone acting as a fuck-bus for a very bored Shas'ui—it's going to get shit done, /tg/ style. And most likely, not during its own firing phase.
If all else fails, the Skyray can stand still for a turn, fire off its networked markerlights, then fire its seeker missiles as regular weapons; using this you can launch up to six missiles at BS6 instead of two missiles with Ignores Cover. Say goodbye to that Command Squad or group of Berserkers.
But Then, Hammerheads
"But wait!" yells the concerned non-Tau player, perplexed by this article, "This unit sounds awesome. Why isn't it used that much?"
The answer is simple: Railguns.
The Tau Hammerhead Gunship and Broadside Battlesuit are both heavy support choices, both have AP1 Railguns (the Hammerhead with S10 and one shot or a Broadsides squad with S8 and three shots,) and Railguns will never disappoint as an antivehicle option - whereas the Skyray's missiles are S8 AP3 - great for busting open enemy Crisis Suits (lol) and the errant Carnifex, but horrible against the big scary AV14 Armor that tends to hit the table when fighting Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, or the Imperial Guard. The Skyray's deficiencies are especially notable on more conventional Tau army lists; whereas one can take a Hammerhead on virtually any mission without becoming a liability, a Skyray can be mighty difficult to justify when its lowered performance against Predator Tanks and Leman Russ Battle Tanks causes glancing hits as opposed to penetrating ones (though the Skyray is just as durable as more conventional tanks, if not more so).
Even though the Skyray can provide multiple support strikes in the same turn, it's simply just not as good as other choices. Heck, even the Hammerhead can double as an anti-infantry weapon too, since it has submunition rounds that also ignore cover and cover a wider area. No matter how boss the Skyray is (and it's very, very good), it will never be able to hold a candle to the undiluted armor-rape that are Broadside/Hammerhead Railguns. On top of that, the Skyray isn't even that much cheaper than other options; even if it were considerably cheaper, it still wouldn't really justify taking up precious heavy support slots.
Further, as good as the Seeker Missiles are for wiping out things like heavy infantry or light to even medium vehicles, they lose again to the Hammerhead. While most people grab Hammerheads for the delicious S10 railgun, they are also capable of mounting an Ion Cannon that offers S7, AP3, Heavy 3 that could probably bust a Sentinel squadron wide open, or S8, AP3, Blast when Overcharged to instagib a squad of Marines. And while the Skyray can provide six Seeker Missiles a turn, the ammunition is limited compared to the constant shooting the Ion Cannon offers.
Even if a player really wants to include seeker missiles, the Skyray does not own a monopoly on them. Though it brings more of them to the table than any other one source, many other kinds of Tau vehicles can mount a pair of seeker missiles each, including the Devilfish, Piranhas, Razorsharks, and hell, even Hammerheads can mount a couple or Broadsides can mount one each, giving you railguns and seeker missiles in the same package and without taking up extra unit slots. The Skyray is certainly helpful in getting them, but by no means critical.
Also there's the fact that it used to cost more base than a Hammerhead, only had 6 shots (that could be fired all in one turn for some douchey and hilarious extermination of that precious little Carnifex over there) and thus become a floating, overpriced smart missile system, and of course in 5th edition's focus on mechanized play players would do better to take the seeker missiles on all their vehicles, thus spreading them out and reducing the chances of a single shot taking out all your HK knock offs. The weakening of vehicles in 6th has not been kind to it either, especially now with the emphasis on fliers and the Broadside's superior ability to take them on (since you can get a Broadside with Skyfire for 20 points less at minimum that can fire the same number of shots over the course of a game and isn't beholden to the luck of your markerlight rolls, or for 50 points more than a bog standard Skyray you can get two Broadsides with Skyfire and the ability to spit out twice as many shots as a Skyray over the course of a game).
On the other hand, the Skyray does have a few uses on the battlefield. It works very well with mechanized Tau and Battlesuit-heavy lists (esp. Ninja Tau), since these are less likely to have oh-so-precious markerlights, and a number of Tau armies field one to back up their Broadsides and/or Hammerhead - since it's kind of hard to argue that seeker missiles aren't fun as hell to use. Armies which use fucktons of markerlights frequently have several, since one critical advantage the Skyray has over the Hammerhead is that it can fire numerous times in one turn if the markerlights allow for it. Another key advantage is that again, Skyray missiles ignore line of sight restrictions and terrain obstacles when fired at their target - this makes Skyrays far more useful in urban combat scenarios, since they'll never have to shoot through terrain obstacles to get at their targets. The Skyray also has a velocity tracker alowing it to have two skyfire markerlights, turning it into a formidable anti-flyer weapon.
The point is that Skyray Missile Gunships have their uses, provided you consider their strengths correctly. They may not have the raw firepower of Hammerhead Gunships or Broadside Suits, but the ability to drop extra markerlights or provide highly accurate indirect fire support anywhere a markerlight is drawn can be quite useful under some circumstances.
And then 7E
With the removal of requiring armies to follow the Force Organization Chart, nothing is stopping you from saying "fuck the formation bonuses" and picking up one of these in addition to your other heavy support options. The wisdom of doing this is completely solid! After alpha striking with 6 missiles on turn 1, and disembarking their drones, Skyrays form assault shields with markerlights that are hardly worth the opponent's trouble to kill. There's also, of course, the possibility of loading up on all the Skyrays you can get your hands on and making a list with them, so you can FIRE ZE MISSILES turn one for an absolutely hilarious game for both sides.
Revenge Of 8E
See all that nonsense above? You're gonna ignore that. This is the stuff you want. Railheads are generally a worse choice. If you want to use them, then use a group of them with Longstrike or switch the Railgun for and Ion Cannon. Railguns ain't worth shit this edition without a stupid number of modifiers and re-rolls, so volume of fire is the key.
Seeker missiles have the range of a Railgun anyway, at the cost of being S8 with only -2 AP, with no mortal wounds on 6's. That doesn't matter though, because you are spamming shots on the target. Not many vehicles are gonna be able to avoid 6 missiles, and you'll wound only the strongest on 4's anyway(5's if you happen to be an incredibly annoying Chaos Knight.) Just use this vehicle to either get an alpha strike or weaken something super scary.
Best thing about them? They are a great source of Markerlights too, and can be equipped with an SMS in order to provide long range support against camping infantry and other targets. The velocity tracker is also a nifty gimmick, meaning you hit on Most flyers on 3+, and hit the juiciest Imperial technology (hover tanks) on 2+. God help them if you hit them with markerlights already.
Now, it appears that Skyrays could be even more viable than they were in 8th. Vehicles now ignore the penalty for moving and shooting with heavy weapons, so you now have a tough markerlight platform that can keep up with your battlesuit or vehicle heavy army. The Seeker Missiles are as always highly viable, and the SMS has become even more powerful now that terrain rules have changed substantially, though expect this to change as the codex comes out, because God forbid T'au have something that Space Marines can't also get their damned hands on.
|Forces of the Tau|
|Command:||Cadre Fireblade - Ethereal - Ethereal Guard - Tau Commander|
|Troops:||Drone Squadron - Fire Warrior Team - Pathfinder Team|
|Auxiliaries:||Gue'vesa - Kroot (Great Knarloc - Kroot Carnivore Squad - Kroot Hound |
Krootox - Lesser Knarloc - Shaper) - Nicassar - Vespid Stingwing
|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 - Hover Chair - Piranha - Sky Ray - Tetra - Swordfish|
|Flyers:||Barracuda - Razorshark - Remora - Sun Shark - Tiger Shark|
|Kor'Vattra:||Manta - Orca - Automated Fighting Drone |
Automated Barge Drone - Automated Bombing Drone