The Fire Caste is the military caste of the Tau Empire. The Tau of this caste are tall and have relatively stronger and more muscular frames than their counterparts in the other Tau castes. This distinction was formed by the Fire Caste's origin on the plains of T'au, the Tau homeworld, where they were predators and warriors.
The Fire Caste are professional soldiers. In some ways, their training regimen begins moments after their birth, for the great communes are fully given over to raising the best soldiers and nothing else. Discipline, fitness, hard work and following orders are drilled into the growing warriors. It is customary for teams to be raised and trained together, allowing the troops to form strong connections - a comradeship-in-arms that will serve them well no matter where in the Tau Empire they are sent off to fight.
To be named a Shas'la -- a full-fledged warrior of the Fire Caste -- is to have completed the rigorous training and to have passed the final rite of passage signifying that one has proven successful at this crucial stage; those not healthy or bright enough to pass these tests are never heard from again. The Fire Caste never stops readying for war -- their academies are purpose built to refine training and to educate their warriors in the ways of war. To the Fire Caste, war is an art form -- a discipline to be studied and applied.
Fire Caste armed forces are deployed to protect Tau holdings or to destroy those that oppose the Tau Empire's enlightenment. In order to achieve success with their rapid strikes and ambushing firefights, Tau forces must be flexible, and ready to work together. It is a Fire Caste mantra that every unit must operate in conjunction to fulfil the dictates of the Greater Good.
The smallest standard unit in the Tau military is known as a team. The most commonly deployed is the Fire Warrior Team, the backbone of most Tau armies. Each team of Fire Warriors consists of between six and twelve soldiers. All members of a team come from the same sept, and most likely have gone through Fire caste academy together. All teams have a team leader, although he can only earn the higher rank of Shas'ui after extensive battlefield experience.
Teams that serve together in the field often bond themselves through rituals, of which the most famous is the 'Ta'lissera', which roughly translates to a type of communion or binding oath. Those who have sworn such an oath may address each other by their individual names and have vowed to support one another unto death. It is not uncommon for teams to progress together as well - veteran Fire Warrior Teams may even earn promotion to Shas'ui together. Each might serve for a time as a squad leader for a different Fire Warrior Team before the survivors are reunited as a Crisis Team.
A cadre is a collection of teams joined under a single Commander. There are many types of cadre, but by far the most common one is the versatile Hunter Cadre. It is a combined arms group, fielding infantry, battlesuits and gunships together. A cadre is comparable in size and power, if not in composition, to what the Imperial Guard might call a company. Hunter Cadres are a standing formation, although their exact structure is variable, subject to change due to the tactical situation on the ground, the quarry they are hunting, the available reinforcements or a Commander's favoured mode of attack.
The core of most Hunter Cadres is its Fire Warriors, but these can be supported in a number of ways. Pathfinders scout ahead and mark prospective targets, elite battlesuits provide hard-hitting su·ike teams, Sniper Drone Teams pick off the foe's greatest threats and Hammerhead Gunships use their deadly armaments to blast enemy armour or break up massed infantry attacks. The doctrine of Tau battle tactics is all about the efficient coordination of different groups - from the infantry to the battlesuits, the gunships to the aircraft, all must work as one to defeat the foe. A Hunter Cadre is fully integrated at the tactical level, so that all teams are considered to be part of the sarne fighting unit.
There are a number of different cadres in addition to the hunter variety, although they tend to be smaller in size and more optimised for individual roles. There are Rapid Insertion Forces made exclusively of fast striking battlesuit teams, Infiltration Cadres of Pathfinders and Stealth Teams and Auxiliary Reserve Cadres. battle groups made entirely of alien warriors. A particularly formidable group is the Armoured Interdiction Cadre, a force composed of Hammerhead and Sky Ray Gunships. Its heavy firepower is used to counter enemy tanks and is capable of toppling even the mightiest targets. During the Hive Fleet Gorgon invasion, Armoured Interdiction Cadres blunted the Tyranid Bio-Titan spearhead - pitting shoals of Hammerheads against towering Hierophants flanked by the tank-sized Hierodules.
A contingent is a grouping of cadres, normally three to six in number. The most senior Commander is designated as Contingent Commander, and his own cadre is nominated as a headquarters guard. An Ethereal might be present in a force at cadre level, but there is always at least one when a contingent is formed. Ethereals often stay at the headquarters position, as it is a hub for incoming reports and his councils can be best received there. Should an Ethereal wish a closer observation of a situation, he will attach to or even assume leadership over a cadre.
Unlike a cadre, a contingent is not a permanent formation, though efforts are made to preserve contingents that have served efficiently together through prolonged campaigns. Once objectives are achieved - such as a breakthrough of enemy lines or the elimination of a foe - the contingent is dissolved or reformed into another arrangement.
Sometimes translated as 'battle', a commune is a temporary grouping of contingents and the highest level of Fire caste organisation thus far committed in the field. Communes are often formed by contingents from different septs, and although rarely seen before the Damocles Gulf conflicts, they are now more regularly formed, most famously during the decade-long campaign against the Orks known as the Great War of Confederation. Only the combined forces of many septs could have hoped to stop the gargantuan Ork Waaagh! that threatened the Empire.
Commands (Uash'o) and Coalitions (Shan'al)
A command is the term used for all the forces of a single caste in a given location. For instance, all the Fire Caste on the world of Nimbosa were part of Fire Caste Command Nimbosa, while all Air Caste formations were part of the Air Caste Command Nimbosa. The four commands are drawn together into a strategic organisation referred to as a coalition, and are presided over by a specially assigned Ethereal council. Thus, a coalition will consist of all Tau and auxiliary forces on a given world or within a particular system.
Ranks within the Fire Caste are determined by a rite of passage known as a "Trial by Fire," which can be anything from a gladiatorial combat to superior performance in a real battle. The first Trial by Fire can be undertaken after a Tau warrior of the Fire Caste has served for 4 Terran years of active combat duty. When a Fire Warrior is old enough, he or she enters active service as a line trooper -- a Shas'la. If the Shas'la survives their first Trial by Fire (which varies from Sept to Sept), they are promoted to the rank of Shas'ui, or Veteran. For every consecutive four Terran years of service thereafter, the Fire Warrior undergoes another Trial by Fire, and successful participants advance yet again, earning the title of Shas'vre -- a true hero of the Fire Caste.
A veteran who honours this more substantial role and survives another four years becomes eligible to undertake a third Trial if he wishes and, if he is still alive by the end, will become a Commander-in-training, or Shas'el. The higher one's rank within the Fire Caste, the more likely one is to be selected and trained to become a Tau Battlesuit pilot. Those who excel in this leading role are promoted to Shas'o, a full T'au Commander. Only Commanders are allowed to retire from active service, where they might be honoured to join the council of advisors and play a greater part in Tau politics. Other than death, this is the only way to leave the Tau military.
By far the two most common forms of Hunter Cadre tactics used by the Tau are the Mont'ka and Kauyon. Each method is taught in depth by the great Fire caste academies and each has its own adherents amongst the masters. Both styles are based on ancient hunting techniques, each representing one of the two broad approaches to slaying your quarry: one involves luring the prey to the hunter (Kauyon), the other involves the hunter running the prey to ground (Mont'ka). Although some Commanders or septs favour the use of certain teams or weaponry for certain styles, ultimately it is the tactics being used that make the difference. This is a concept the master of the academy, all preeminent warriors in their day, stress to their pupils.
Roughly translated, 'the killing blow'. The most aggressive style of Tau warfare, its tenet is all about the art of identifying a target of opportunity and attacking it swiftly with a Hunter Cadre. There are many famous variants of the Mont'ka, with most revolving around rapid strikes with a mobile force and taking the fight directly to the foe. The theory behind it is that landing a swift and decisive blow to the vitals of the enemy will eventually win the fight. Common to all methods of Tau warfare, Mont'ka places a strong emphasis on target prioritisation and concentration of fire - attacking the right foe at the right time with an overwhelming application of force. Attacking too soon will cause the assault to lose impetus, while attacking too late will hand the foe the initiative
A cadre pursuing the Mont'ka may stand in readiness for several days awaiting the command to strike. During this time they will review the plan - choreographing the moves they will perform when the call to strike comes, charting out all nuance of targets, terrain and timing. Often, the attack will be delivered in varied stages, with elements of the assault arriving in different manners and quite often from separate directions. The coordination of such events is pre-planned, although, naturally, there are a range of contingencies and adjustments that can modify the plan in response to the variables of the bartle.
The final decision to launch a Mont'ka comes from one who has a good view of the foe - often a Pathfinder Team that has - worked its way forwards into enemy territory. There is a great bond of trust between the cadre that conducts the Mont'ka and the Commander who orders it, and a well-honed attack will bring great honour to both. The attack will be called off immediately if the prey remains resilient or proves especially troublesome or evasive. Escalation or grinding battles are not the way of the Mont' ka, and rather than enter into a fight of attrition, the Tau find it far preferable to pull back out of range and begin planning for another strike.
The Kauyon art of war is the oldest of the Tau techniques, and the words for hunter and patience are both derived from this same root. This style of combat relies on the interaction of the hunter and the lure. The lure can be almost anything - most likely a friendly unit deployed in an intervening position upon the battlefield or perhaps an objective known to be vital to the foe . Using wisdom and foresight, the patient hunter will anticipate the enemy's path and deploy in the most advantageous manner to attack them. For example, a cadre practicing Kauyon might set up an attack along a known enemy advantageous manner to attack them - placing a team far forward to inflict some initial damage before falling back. As the friendly troops withdraw, they are sure to be followed by the vengeful foe. How best to attack that advancement is where the art of Kauyon comes into play.
True masters of the ambush attack have so many layers of plans within plans that only at the end do their opponents come close to realising that all of their actions have been anticipated, even orchestrated, to achieve the attacker's end result. Many a foe has been drawn in by the spider-web plans of a Kauyon, lured by intentional weak spots left on the Tau battle line, or induced into a killing zone by teams feigning retreat. There are many subtleties to the Tau ambush strategy, with canny Commanders using multiple distractions to split a foe's forces, or actively moving their lures in order to spread the enemy out, leaving them vulnerable to impending attacks.
Notable Fire Caste Members
- Shas'O Vior'la Shovah Kais Mont'yr, O'Shovah (Commander Farsight) - Commander Farsight (known as O'Shovah in the Tau Lexicon) was the military and political leader of the renegade Tau of the Farsight Enclaves located in the Damocles Gulf.
- Shas'o Tash'var Ol'nan B'kak, O'var (Commander Brightsword) - Commander Brightsword was a Tau military officer and an ardent student of Commander Farsight. He served as the commander of the Tau outpost world of Es'tau.
- O'Shaserra (Commander Shadowsun) - Commander Shadowsun is the commander of the Tau Fire Caste's military campaign that carried out the Tau Empire's Third Sphere Expansion. After the alleged betrayal of Commander Farsight, the Tau Empire's ruling Ethereal Aun'Va selected Commander Shadowsun as a more-steadfast replacement to conduct the Third Sphere Expansion of the Tau Empire.
- Shas'la T'au Kais, La'Kais - Shas'la Kais was a young and inexperienced Tau Fire Warrior who played a significant role in the rescue of the Ethereal Aun'el Ko'vash from the Astartes of the Ultramarines Chapter and the defeat of the Chaos-corrupted Imperial Planetary Governor Meyloch Severus of Dromus IV. Sha'la Kais was the main character of the PC game Fire Warrior.
- Codex: Tau Empire (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), "The Castes," "Cadre Fireblades"
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 8-12, 22-24
- Codex: Tau (4th Edition), pp. 9, 32, 34, 40, 44-47
- Codex: Tau (3rd Edition), pp. 8-9, 16, 22, 24, 26, 30, 50-51, 61
- Deathwatch: Mark of the Xenos (RPG), pp. 6-9
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pp. 283-284
- Fire Warrior (Novel) by Simon Spurrier