The TX78 Sky Ray Missile Defence Gunship is a specialised variant of the more common Tau Hammerhead gunship, and replaces its turret gun with an array of deadly Seeker Missiles; shifting its role to a dedicated missile platform that is used by the Tau Fire Caste to provide point attack fire support for Fire Warrior Teams, who lack their own heavy weaponry. When guided by the Marker Lights of Tau Pathfinder teams, the TX78 Sky Ray makes an exceptional perimeter and air defence missile system. The Sky Ray is often regarded as the Tau equivalent of an artillery platform, as they lack standard mobile heavy artillery platforms like the Basilisk vehicles that the Imperium utilises. Originally designed to neutralise enemy aircraft, the Sky Ray has also proven its value in a combined arms approach; fulfilling a supporting role where its ballistic arsenal can be called in by any Tau with a Marker Light to carry out a remote strike on a sufficiently valuable target. Alternatively, a Sky Ray can use its own Networked Marker Lights to direct its weaponry, most commonly when it meets an unexpected enemy breakthrough with a sudden volley of high explosive warheads.
The TX78 Sky Ray was first developed and deployed towards the end of the Damocles Crusade, and served as a counter to the Imperium's air power. Thanks to its velocity tracker, the Sky Ray could lock its missiles onto any target it could see -- including the fast-moving flyers of the Imperial Navy. The Seeker Missiles that they carry are so fast that many enemy pilots are hit and downed before they can even take evasive manoeuvres. During the Taros Campaign, enemy pilots dubbed the vehicle the "sting ray" or "stinger" and they came to value confirmed Sky Ray kills above all others. During the Great War of Confederation, so many Ork bombers were lost due to the Sky Ray barriers positioned around Tau cities that even the daredevil Ork pilots soon refused to enter what they termed "deff alley." Yet the Sky Ray is not only deadly to flyers, as many enemy tanks have learned to their misfortune. Even enemy commanders have found themselves suddenly lit with Marker Lights and then targeted by Seeker Missiles. Several notable Space Marine heroes were thusly obliterated during the recent Zeist Campaign offensive in the Zeist Sector of the Eastern Fringe.
The overall design of the Sky Ray is based off the ubiquitous Devilfish chassis, which consists of a sleek and light design powered by complex dual anti-gravitic and jet-propulsion motive systems so that a Sky Ray almost glides over a planet's surface. The anti-gravitic engines generate "cushions" of air upon which the Sky Ray floats, and its armoured bulk is then driven forwards by its two powerful multi-directional jet engines mounted on the rear sides of the hull. By pivoting the propulsion units downwards, a Sky Ray pilot can gain extra lift to clear the many obstacles and terrain that often litters a battlefield; obstacles that more mundane tracked vehicles can never hope to traverse. These jet engines are reliable and efficient compared to Imperial designs, but are still relatively noisy. There are also two lift fins mounted on the front, each with a recess to house a weapon system or a Gun Drone.
Most of the space within the tank is taken up by capacitors for its weapon systems, additional ammunition, and non-combat systems such as climate control and communications. As such, it cannot carry troops. The Sky Ray does have two crew members, which are the pilot and the weapon operator. Override systems are also in place inside the Sky Ray to allow any crew member to take over another's role in case of casualties. A Sky Ray's primary sensors are located in an array under the tank's forward housing in the vehicle's nose.
The vehicle also features a hatch on each side along with a door in the rear to allow the crew inside to disembark if necessary. The armour of the vehicle is made from a dense nano-crystalline metal, named Fio'tak in the Tau Lexicon, that is light, malleable, strong and corrosive resistant; reducing the weight of the vehicle whilst also providing excellent protection.
During the Damocles Gulf Crusade, the Tau learned many lessons about the Imperium's military forces, and the Tau quickly adapted their new knowledge to practical battlefield uses. The Sky Ray is an example of this, and was developed by the Tau Earth Caste after the end of the Crusade as a direct response to Imperial airpower. Early versions of the Sky Ray required the crew to manually find and lock-on to targets with its missiles, but it has since been integrated into the wider Marker Light control network which greatly enhanced its battlefield effectiveness.
On the battlefield, a TX78 Sky Ray is a grav-tank that glides behind the front lines, using its twin Marker Lights to sweep the horizon -- seeking to find and lock-on to either ground or airborne targets. The Sky Ray's advanced targeting systems and ability to launch its missiles with enormous accuracy from long distances at low-flying enemy aircraft makes it extremely effective in its primary anti-aircraft role. However, it can also be used in ground combat in conjunction with Pathfinder teams as an artillery and/or direct strike vehicle due to its fast targeting system re-calibration. With Pathfinders far out front, the Sky Ray is typically positioned behind the main battle line of Fire Warriors. In this way, it provides an effective air defence while still being able to aid the infantry against ground targets.
Should enemy targets be acquired, the crew can launch a Seeker Missile, a deadly rocket that streaks away faster than the eye can follow. Thanks to its Velocity Tracker, a Sky Ray can lock its missiles onto any target it can see -- including the fast moving flyers of the Imperial Navy. The Seeker Missiles that they carry are so fast that many enemy pilots are hit and downed before they can even take evasive manoeuvres. Yet the Sky Ray is not only deadly to flyers, as many enemy tanks have learned. If the target is light infantry, not worth one of the limited Seeker Missiles, a Sky Ray will instead use its pair of Marker Lights to light up the foe -- making them easier prey for the guns of nearby Fire Warriors. Even enemy commanders have found themselves suddenly lit up by Marker Lights and then targeted by Seeker Missiles to devastating effect. The crew of the Sky Ray rely heavily on their interactions with the forward infantry teams and are in constant contact with them, coordinating fire and determining the viability of targets.
For all their effectiveness, Sky Rays are rarely encountered in large numbers on the battlefield. The Sky Ray does suffer from a lack of ammunition-carrying capacity, which means it cannot operate effectively for longer periods of time. Many Tau Commanders eschew using them in favour of Hammerheads due to their lack of armour protection and ammunition deficiencies. Sky Rays are commonly deployed as a single vehicle attached to a Hunter Cadre, or as part of a defence for important strategic locations such as Tau airbases, power generators and headquarters. It is also not unusual to find a Sky Ray as support for an Armoured Interdiction Cadre, although some Septs prefer to field impressive Sky Shields -- a trio of Sky Rays whose interlocking Marker Lights and extensive arsenal of missiles provides an umbrella of protection to the ground forces below. Sky Rays are indispensable weapons for Tau forces facing opponents that maintain strong air support forces.
- Skysweep Missile Defence Wing – In addition to deploying fighter wings tasked with clearing the skies above the battlefield, the ever-efficient Tau military doctrine also places great importance upon ground-to-air attacks to gain air superiority over their foes. There is little better in the Tau arsenal at turning aircraft into plummeting wrecks than the Skyray. All Tau Hunter Cadres maintain a pool of Sky Ray missile defence gunships, which are employed primarily in an anti-tank role, but they are also highly proficient as anti-aircraft weapon systems. When fighting larger-scale engagements, many Tau Commanders will call upon a so-called Skysweep Missile Defence Wing to secure dominance of the airspace over the battlefield. By massing all the Skyrays the Fire Caste is able to muster, and attaching a dedicated Devilfish that acts as a command vehicle to sync up the combat network, the Tau can create a zone of destruction above the battlefield. Even the prenaturally agile fighters of the Eldar are hard pressed to penetrate the airspace of a Tau army protected by a Skysweep Missile Defence Wing. The Devilfish part of a Skysweep Missile Defence Wing carries a suite of sophisticated command and control systems, with which its operator can monitor the airspace above the battlefield and then bring the weapons under his command to bear. With a single command, the operator can lock on to an enemy fighter, select how many weapons will be fired at it, launch those missiles, and issue an advisory warning to nearby friendly forces. The latter role is especially important, as Tau forces can then react accordingly by taking cover and avoid the worst of an enemy attack run, whilst Seeker Missiles which streak off are often followed moments later by a thunderous explosion and a fireball that briefly shows where the enemy aircraft used to be.
- Armoured Interdiction Cadre – The Tau’s expertise in anti-gravitic technology means that their armoured vehicles are swift yet well-protected. An Armoured Interdiction Cadre is a force composed of vehicles chosen to deal with enemy formations that do not specialise in anti-armour weaponry. Using their speed, an Armoured Interdiction Cadre will manoeuvre to concentrate its firepower on its target, trusting in its armour to protect it against return fire. The vehicles of the Cadre are networked together with an interactive tactical control system, allowing the Shas’el or Shas’o commander that supervises the Cadre in the command tank to direct fire quickly and efficiently. An Armoured Interdiction Cadre will usually be comprised of a number of Hammerhead and Sky Ray gunships.
A Sky Ray's primary armament is a Seeker Missile turret array that can be fitted with up to 6 Seeker Missiles. This array also features two Networked Marker Lights. The Sky Ray's Seeker Missiles can be fired directly by the vehicle, or they may be launched by an independent ground operator, aimed at any target lit by a Marker Light. In this way, Pathfinders or Fire Warrior teams that do not carry their own heavy weaponry can still have instant access to the Sky Ray's potent Seeker Missiles by firing them remotely through the network. The actual missiles themselves are extremely fast and can take down enemy aircraft and medium armour alike from extreme ranges so long as the target has been designated with a Marker Light. The course of the missile is determined by data fed by the Marker Light, such as range, target speed and target type.
Secondary weapons are mounted in the front recesses of the vehicle and are primarily deployed to provide anti-infantry fire support. The vehicle's secondary weapons can include one of the following:
- Twin-linked Burst Cannon - Burst Cannons provide rapid-firing suppressive anti-infantry fire, acting as a self-defence weapon that can also be used to complement the fire of supporting infantry squads.
- Gun Drones – Sky Rays can be armed with two Gun Drones which ride with the vehicle in specially designed recesses. These Gun Drones are able to lend to their Hammerhead an additional weight of fire, or can detach themselves and move off independently to perform missions of their own.
- Twin-linked Smart Missile System - A Smart Missile System fires swarms of self-guided missiles, each with a built-in Drone intelligence so they can hunt down targets that could not normally be seen or targeted. Many Sky Ray crew prefer the Smart Missile System as it provides a high degree of close-ranged protection, and its self-guided missiles allow the Sky Ray to make maximum use of cover; sometimes never exposing itself to return fire.
All Sky Rays are equipped with a Targeting Array, Target Lock and Velocity Tracker as standard. Targeting Arrays are sophisticated targeting systems that aid the gunners' aim in firing upon enemy targets, whilst Target Lock systems automatically identify potential targets and plot fire plans accordingly. This grants the gunners more choice in targets to engage. Velocity Trackers are advanced motion detecting and heat seeking sensor systems that allow the vehicle to track the movements of airborne targets and fire with maximum effectiveness upon them. As with all other Tau skimmercraft based off the Devilfish chassis, Sky Rays are equipped with built-in landing gear to allow the vehicle to land on the ground if needed; either in the case of failure of the thruster engines, or for when the vehicle is simply at rest and deactivated. Sky Rays can also be equipped with any of the following Tau vehicle support systems:
- Automated Repair System - Automated Repair Systems consist of dispensers which release tiny maintenance Drones which swarm over damaged weapon and drive systems, repairing them in the midst of battle.
- Advanced Targeting System - An Advanced Targeting System assists the vehicle's gunner by identifying targets of particular value or danger, and plotting fire plans to counter them.
- Blacksun Filter - Blacksun Filters allow the vehicle's gunners to accurately see and target enemies in low-light conditions.
- Decoy Launchers - Decoy Launchers are a form of defensive measure that is mounted near the engines. They are capable of firing clouds of reflective strips and sophisticated electronic decoys, which are combined with flare and chaff launchers to protect the tank's thruster arrays from enemy missiles.
- Disruption Pod - Disruption Pods display distorting holographic images in the visual and electromagnetic spectra to make the vehicle harder to target.
- Flechette Discharger - Flechette Dischargers line the hull of the Sky Ray and fire high-velocity flechettes at infantry which try to assault the vehicle.
- Multi-Tracker - A Multi-Tracker consists of advanced stabilisers that allow the vehicle to fire accurately even whilst moving at speed.
- Point Defence Targeting Relay - Designed to provide superior covering fire for nearby Fire Caste units, a Point Defence Targeting Relay automatically targets and engages enemies that try to assault the vehicle or nearby friendly units.
- Sensor Spines - Sensor Spines feed data to an advanced ground-following flight control system. This allows the vehicle to avoid hazardous terrain that could otherwise damage the vehicle's drive systems.
Ordo Xenos Departmento Analyticus Technical Specifications
|Serial Number||85673-908457||Main Armament||6 Seeker Missiles|
|Designation||Missile Defence Gunship|
|Vehicle Codename||Sky Ray||Secondary Armament|
|Crew||2: Pilot and Gunner||Traverse||360°|
|Weight||24 tonnes||Elevation||+70° to 0°|
|Length||8.25 metres||Ammunition||6 Missiles|
|Width||6.8 metres||Armour Type||35 millimetres-120 millimetres of Nano-Crystalline Alloy
Composition Unknown to the Adeptus Mechanicus
|Max Recorded Speed||70 kilometres per hour|
|Summary:||Air Defence Vehicle; also deployed for ground combat|
- Apocalypse (6th Edition), pg. 183
- Apocalypse (4th Edition), pg. 160
- Apocalypse Reload, pg. 45
- Codex: Tau Empire (7th Edition), pp. 24, 101
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 51, 69, 103
- Codex: Tau Empire (4th Edition), pg. 41
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pg. 196
- Imperial Armour Update, pg. 33
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pp. 163, 285
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign (Second Edition), pp. 163-165
- War Zone Damocles: Kauyon, pg. 188
- War Zone Damocles: Mont'ka, pp. 30-31, 189
- Courage and Honour (Novel) by Graham McNeill