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A pair of Tau Mantas with a Barracuda squadron escort

The Manta, more formally known as the Manta Missile Destroyer, is a super-heavy Tau spacecraft that is also the Tau Empire's closest equivalent to the Imperium of Man's Titans and Ork Gargants. It is well-armoured for use in frontline combat and can deliver massive amounts of firepower to the battlefield to help support Tau ground forces during a frontal assault against entrenched enemy positions. The Manta also features a large transport capacity that allows it to carry entire Hunter Cadres to and from engagements.

The Manta is the smallest interstellar-capable spacecraft of the Tau, and serves a vital role in carrying out the current and future expansions of the Tau Empire. Straddling the functional roles of both an Attack Craft and a full starship, these small spacecraft are useful in a variety of roles. In the void they are used to attack enemy starships and are a match for entire squadrons of Imperial starfighters, while during planetary assaults they function as dropships and heavy fire support for Tau ground forces.


Several Tau Mantas bring Tau forces to the Kroot homeworld of Pech

During the Taros Campaign, Mantas were mainly used to transport Hunter Cadres and their heavy equipment across the planet and into the deserts to assault and slow the Imperial advance. In this way, Mantas were used to position Tau troops for counter-attacks against Imperial forces and stood ready to quickly extract Tau forces after an engagement. The Tau fleet of Mantas allowed for superior strategic mobility against the less air-mobile forces of the Imperial Guard and allowed for the outnumbered Tau Hunter Cadres to face the Imperial Guard on equal terms by bringing superior force to bear in localised counter-attacks and defensive engagements. Mantas have been used in almost every large-scale military campaign and engagement of the Tau Empire, including the Damocles Gulf Crusade where the spacecraft proved critical in supplying the mobility and firepower necessary to repel the Imperial invaders.

Transport Operations

A pair of Mantas flying over Taros

The Manta Missile Destroyer is one of the largest aircraft that can be fielded within a planet’s atmosphere in a frontline role, and is the largest dropship of its kind. Indeed, the Manta is so large that it is actually classified as a small spacecraft, and lies on the borderline of classification between an Attack Craft and a full starship. A Manta is several times larger than the Space Marine Thunderhawk and has a limited Tau Ether Drive capacity. However, due to its size, a Manta can only make very short Warp jumps, restricting its use in interstellar transportation. For longer trips, a Manta must be transported inside far larger Tau carriers. The Manta is also capable of a hover mode for deployment of troops. However the considerable energy requirements of operations close to a planet's surface using anti-gravitic engines means that the craft loses the capability for fast maneuvering during ground combat. Mantas are armoured with an extremely thick layer of the same nano-crystalline armour used in many other Tau vehicles and aircraft, giving it a measure of protection unlike any other within the Tau forces.

The bulk of the interior space of the Manta is utilised for the transportation of Tau troops. Normally, a Manta can transport a whole Hunter Cadre’s worth of troops as well as the cadre's equipment, supplies and support assets. The hold of the Manta is divided into an upper and lower deck where the upper deck is designed to transport troops while the lower deck is designed to transport larger Tau units such as Battlesuits and vehicles. The upper deck has seats for up to 48 Tau Fire Warriors and racks to store all of their weapons and equipment, such as Pulse Rifles and Pulse Carbines. Fire Warriors are held in place with restraint harnesses to prevent harm to the occupants in the event of a rough landing, crash landing, or general turbulence. The upper deck also contains six specially designed Drone recesses along the centre line, as well as a single seat towards the "head" of the Manta that can carry an important Tau Commander or other official such as an Ethereal. Troops on the upper deck disembark from a ramp that extends from the rear access bay doors to the ground when the Manta lands. The front of the upper deck contains an access way and a ladder to the Manta’s own sophisticated command bridge. From there, a Tau commander or Ethereal can oversee battlefield operations while being relatively close to the site of conflict. In this way, a Manta also serves as a mobile forward command post and can act as a fire control and communications hub.

Forward view of a Tau Manta

The lower deck is a cavernous hold that can serve as a large elevator which is able to be lowered. The lower deck can house up to four Tau vehicles based off the Devilfish chassis and up to 8 Battlesuits, whether they be XV8 Crisis Battlesuits or XV88 Broadside Battlesuits. Devilfish transports within a Manta hold may also be fully loaded with Fire Warriors and Pathfinder. However, the lower deck can be configured to carry a variety of Tau units such as Piranhas, Tetras, Kroot and their accompanying beasts, and XV15 and XV25 Stealthsuits as well as any necessary supplies and/or equipment. Units can disembark from the rear access bay doors from which a short ramp can extend. Alternatively, the whole lower deck can be lowered, which allows for all units within the lower deck to disembark at once. As a third alternative, Tau skimmercraft and units equipped with a Jetpack can descend from the Manta at high altitudes and drop directly into the midst of fighting. It is of note that a standard Manta cannot feasibly carry a Sky Ray due to the height of the Sky Ray’s Seeker Missile rack. However, variations of hold design may allow some Mantas to accommodate the transportation of Sky Rays.

As the Manta is a true spacecraft, it is crewed entirely by members of the Air Caste. Two Air Caste members sit within the main cockpit, from which one member pilots the Manta whilst the other operates the Manta’s weaponry. Four other Air Caste operators sit further back. The cockpit is also a large escape pod which can eject from the Manta in the event of an emergency where the aircraft sustains serious damage. When this happens, the entire cockpit capsule disconnects and utilises its limited anti-gravitic mobility to return the pilots safely to the ground. Once on the ground however, the pilots have to make good their own escape. In special circumstances, it can be surmised that the cockpit may also be used to save the lives of important individuals such as Tau commanders and Ethereals, if the need arises.

Tactical Role

A Manta Missile Destroyer, dorsal view

Mantas are designed to support Tau Hunter Cadres in various military operations, whether in aiding their deployment or providing heavy airborne fire support as they hover menacingly over a battlefield. Mantas can operate close to the ground as either a flyer or a skimmer; although when operating so close to the surface, they expend enormous energy reserves to maintain their anti-gravitic propulsion fields. Because of this energy cost, Mantas are not capable of rapid manoeuvring once they are committed to ground combat. In the initial stages of a planetary invasion campaign, Mantas will be used to transport Tau forces and supplies from starships at anchor in orbit to the planet’s surface. Once this stage of a campaign is complete, Mantas are essential support vehicles that transport Tau forces to and from battlezones where its large size, array of heavy weaponry and strong armour allows for Hunter Cadres to be transported safely. The few times a Manta requires extra protection while it transports troops, a squadron of Barracudas will commonly act as an escort by protecting the Manta from enemy interceptors. Mantas are not usually utilised in battle, as the loss of even a single one of these spacecraft can be catastrophic for a Tau planetary assault.

When a Manta actively participates in battle, the use of the Fire Caste doctrine of “Mont’ka” or “the Killing Blow” requires the precise application of overwhelming force to destroy the enemy. In this tactical scheme, Mantas are used to force a direct spear-thrust into the heart of enemy forces. Often dropping directly from high altitude and straight down onto a target chosen for its strategic importance, the task of the Manta and the Tau force within it is to destroy the target utterly. In these sudden and dramatic attacks, the Manta's heavy firepower is combined with the element of surprise to change the course of a battle. To ensure victory, a Manta will carry a specially chosen strike force for deployment directly into the teeth of the enemy. It is the strike force’s task to engage and destroy any opposition on the ground at close quarters with the application of overwhelming firepower. Mantas are also used to counter enemy super-heavy vehicles and combat walkers such as Titans as they are one of the few Tau assets capable of facing down and destroying such potent weapon systems. The Manta’s distinctive silhouette is rightly feared by the enemies of the Tau Empire as much as it bolsters the morale of Tau forces when it appears.

In space, a Manta fulfils the role of a heavy Attack Craft where it is a match for whole squadrons of Imperial starfighters. Mantas can also be configured to perform void-based bombing missions against enemy capital ships. However, Mantas have a limited interstellar capability and often need to be transported by larger Tau spacecraft, such as Protector and Custodian-class starships, between star systems. Mantas can also dock at the Air Caste's orbital stations which circle many important Tau Sept worlds.


Schematic of a Manta

Due to its large size, a Manta can carry a fearsome amount of firepower which is comparable to that deployed by Imperial Titans. This firepower allows a Manta to devastate entire armies of enemies in a single engagement. The main primary weapons of a Manta are its twin Heavy Railguns. Heavy Railguns utilise the same technology as standard Railguns, but on a far larger scale, allowing for greater projectile speeds and thus, greater power. Heavy Railgun rounds are fin-stabilised for extra lift and give a remarkable range within an atmosphere. Rounds also have in-built Drone intelligences and manoeuvring thrusters for better accuracy against enemy targets. Heavy Railguns can fire massive submunition shells which contain Drone processors that are programmed to direct the munition accurately towards the target. This is effective in void combat where the shell can find weak points in the armour of enemy starships. This Drone guidance is needed because standard submunition rounds lack the necessary penetrating power to pierce most forms of spacecraft armour. However, such rounds are more useful in ground combat as the shell can saturate an extremely large area with submunitions; denying cover more effectively to enemy forces due since it is fired from the air. These massive weapons when fired together can destroy an unshielded Warhound-class Scout Titan in a single hit. As a backup to its main weapons, the Manta mounts six long-barelled Ion Cannons grouped in batteries of three in each wing. These provide short-ranged saturation fire when in the thick of battle. The rest of the Manta's arsenal consists of a prow-mounted launch port for up to ten Seeker Missiles. These can be controlled by the crew through the Manta’s own Networked Marker Light turret mounted under the cockpit, or by other Marker Light operators on the ground. A Manta is also armed with sixteen Drone-controlled Long-Barrelled Burst Cannon turrets. These are positioned all around the Manta's hull for close defence whilst the ship is landed and as anti-aircraft weapons when in flight. The turrets are positioned so that all angles of approach are covered by multiple Burst Cannons, meaning that enemy aircraft can be fired upon no matter what angle they come in at the Manta. These Burst Cannon turrets also make devastating anti-infantry weapons as the sheer amount of firepower they pour out is overwhelming. Mantas are equipped with integrated Missile Pods in the prow as extra protection against aircraft if necessary, although these are also effective against light vehicles. Mantas are equipped with an advanced Tau Targeting Array to improve the accuracy of pilot-aimed weapons, and a Blacksun Filter so that its weapons can be targeted effectively in low-light conditions. For protection, Mantas are equipped with an Energy Shield. These shields make use of highly advanced technology that serves a similar defensive role to Imperial Void Shields. However, Tau Energy Shields work differently in that they do not stop the incoming projectile, but instead use a shaped gravitic field that is positioned in such a way as to deflect incoming fire. These shields are capable of deflecting even the most powerful anti-Titan weapons, as the shield's deflection response will become proportionally more powerful as the energy of the incoming attack increases. Whilst Tau Energy Shields can be breached by well-aimed shots, they will rarely, if ever, collapse altogether like their Imperial counterparts.

Ordo Xenos Departmento Analyticus Technical Specifications

Serial Number: 85673-908461 Main Armament: 2 Heavy Railguns, 2 triple-Ion Cannon batteries
Designation: Super-Heavy Dropship
Vehicle Codename: Manta Secondary Armament:

16 Drone Controlled Burst Cannons, 10 Seeker Missiles

Vehicle Type: Shuttle/Ground Attack
Crew: 8 Traverse:
Weight: 382 tonnes (empty) Elevation: +0° to -0°
Length: 32 metres Ammunition: Unkown
Width: 52 metres Armour Type: Nano-Crystalline Alloy, Composition Unknown to the Adeptus Mechanicus
Height: 8 metres
Max Recorded Speed: 2600 kilometres per hour at 5000 feet; cruising speed 1600 kilometres per hour
Summary: Also a small Warp-capable spacecraft

See Also


The Manta was the largest model produced by Forge World, weighing a record 12.5 kilograms without troops or vehicles inside. It was 63 centimetres long and possessed a wingspan of 83 centimetres. The model was also six times larger than a Thunderhawk. It was also the most expensive model produced by Forge World when first released, costing £960.


  • Aeronautica Imperialis, pp. 114-116
  • Battlefleet Gothic Armada - To Unite the Stars: Tau Vessels, pg. 98
  • Codex: Tau (3rd Edition), pg. 15
  • Imperial Armour Aeronautica, pg. 62
  • Imperial Armour Apocalypse, pp. 76, 85
  • Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2nd Edition), pp. 78, 88
  • Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2013), pp. 126-127
  • Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pp. 208-211, 213-214, 282, 287
  • Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign (Second Edition), pp. 194-197