- "The humble drone is the greatest symbol of our growing dominion. They follow orders without question, work tirelessly and sacrifice themselves without hesitation when called upon. Truly, much can be learned from such devotion."
- —Ethereal Aun'vre of the Tau Empire
A Tau Drone (Kor’vesa in the Tau Lexicon) is a form of artificial intelligence extensively utilised by the Tau Empire for a variety of combat and non-combat purposes. The mobile variants of Tau Drones exist in the form of sleek disk-shaped machines which are well-armoured and equipped with small anti-gravitic engines and manoeuvring jet-thrusters so that they can hover and skim across the ground. As they hover over landscapes, rotating back and forth, their sensor vane(s) constantly transmits vital information about their surroundings. These types of Drones are most commonly seen employed alongside the warriors of the Fire Caste. Although small and somewhat innocuous, those foes that underestimate Tau Drones often pay for such a costly mistake with their lives. However, Drone intelligences can also be found built into a great number of technologies developed by the Tau Earth Caste. There are many different types of Drones utilised by the Tau in varying roles; these can range from mundane civilian uses to multiple combat roles. Tau Drones can carry a wide variety of equipment, ranging from defensive Shield Generators to offensive weaponry, communications equipment and various combat support systems. Most Tau Drones are able to interact with their Tau masters, obeying simple instructions and even anticipating what duties are required of them. The Tau value their Drones, and whilst they are not regarded as having equal status to a Tau, they are treated with a degree of respect akin to that of a favoured animal companion amongst humans.
Unlike the Imperium of Man, the Tau make extensive use of artificial intelligences (AI); this is a cultural trait that damns the entire Tau race in the eyes of the Adeptus Mechanicus and much of the Imperial hierarchy, where the use of true artificial intelligence has long been forbidden to the servants of the Machine God and the God-Emperor alike. However, for the Tau, Drone intelligences are a remarkable feat of Earth Caste engineering. All Tau Drones consist of an advanced processor unit which individually possesses only a basic intelligence; equivalent to that of a small animal such as a pterasquirrel. Nevertheless, this is often enough for the Drone to perform the tasks that are required of it. Indeed, such programming can cope with any number of battlefield roles should the need arise as drone intelligences are capable of independent initiative and basic problem solving. However, all Drone intelligences share common programming that allows them to be able to control the movement of their artificial "bodies," fire any weapons they control, and evade enemy fire if they are capable of doing so. The Tau believe so deeply in the Greater Good that even their Drones are programmed with self-preservation protocols, and a Drone will flee rather than face certain destruction against what it deems to be hopeless odds. However, if the need arises, a Drone will always attempt to protect its master even in the face of its own self-destruction. Most Drone intelligences are imbued into a mobile robotic construct, and these can take many different forms. These mobile Drones often require a Tau controller to employ their processing power to its maximum potential, although should the controller be slain, accompanying Drones possess enough AI to continue the fight, and Earth Caste engineers have been amazed to arrive upon a battlefield many hours after its conclusion to find such Drones still actively vigilant against the foe. Despite the undeniable effectiveness of Drones acting alone though, a Fire Caste warrior skilled in directing them can make the Drones all the more deadlier. In addition to improving their accuracy, a warrior guiding Drones can ensure that they fight both tactically and strategically, making critical judgements on which targets are truly the most important, and when to hold steadfast or make tactical retreats.
Most Tau Drones can be networked together to serve as a team or squadron. This significantly increases and ramps up the intelligence and processing speed of all the Drones in the network, and their ability for independent action. Normally a Drone would require regular orders from its Tau master to operate at maximum efficiency, but several Drones acting together become capable of acting independently for long periods of time without the need for Tau controllers. It is possible for these squadrons to perform surprisingly impressive tactical feats. Four Drones is the minimum number required to form a fully effective self-aware network, whilst twelve is usually the maximum number of Drones deployed in a single squadron. The most common type of Tau Drone networked into such squadrons are Gun Drones, although certain Gun Drones in a squadron have sometimes been upgraded to carry a Marker Light or possibly a Shield Generator. In very rare instances, entire squadrons have been so altered -- such as the Shield Drone barrier that was used with success in the great tank duels of the Almo'th Plains, or Commander Shadowsun's barrage of Marker Lights from a Marker Drone squadron that helped wipe out Ork infantry ensconced in the ruins of the Cha'nel colony.
A Drone Controller is an electronic device that can be used by the Tau to further enhance their connection to and control over their robotic companions. A Drone Controller acts as a hub of digital communications between the Drone's operator and any Drones that are nearby. It acts as an advanced interface between the operator and the AI battle programs of the Drones, and is often used to direct the Drones’ firepower far more efficiently and with a level of accuracy far greater than would otherwise be possible on the battlefield.
The Tau are always intrigued, and more than a little disturbed, to face the Imperium of Man's deep-seated and abiding prejudice against machine intelligences. The Earth Caste, in particular, cannot fully understand the sheer abhorrence that humans reserve for machines that can think for themselves. To them, the artificially intelligent Drones are just another technological tool to use for the advancement of the Greater Good. For the Tau, Drones save time and lives, and to regard machine intelligences with suspicion is yet another example of an alien, backwards, and barbaric superstition that must be overcome.
When Auto-Response Probes were launched to explore the gulf of empty space past the Tau Empire’s borders during the First Sphere Expansion, the event marked the Tau's first uses of a new technology: artificial intelligence (AI). Since then, the use and applications of Drone intelligences has only increased, and they now are utilised in a great number of tasks in the Tau Empire. In civilian life, a Drone will usually be assigned a high ranking Tau official as its master, where it will act as the Tau’s personal domestic servant, messenger, etc. However, due to Drones being most suitable for tedious and/or dangerous applications, they are a cornerstone of the Tau armed forces. The Tau Empire has no compunction about the use of machine intelligences in its armed forces; indeed, they embrace them as an effective way to reduce the number of Tau lives lost on the battlefield. The Fire Caste regularly arms its Drones with a variety of weapons, Shield Generators, and other military equipment and deploys squadrons of them alongside their Fire Warriors in battle. The Tau do not treat Drones as expendable forces, but as another useful weapon in their armoury. While Drone Squadrons might be used in high-risk missions or purposefully moved to block enemy advances on a group of embattled Fire Warriors, a Drone’s artificial intelligence will analyse every possibility in order to ensure its own survival.
Most Tau units are accompanied by several Drones to assist them in battle. The Drones provide this assistance in multiple ways, including providing protection, fire support, greater communications capability, etc. Tau Drones can also provide a tactical advantage to all Tau on the battlefield. For instance, remote Drone networks that consist of scores of Drones are often deployed to feed targeting information to Tau forces in the combat zone. Such a network allows the Fire Warriors to focus their firepower more decisively on various enemy targets. As their jet-thrusters allow them to slow their descent, it is possible to deploy a Drone Squadron by Manta or Orca superheavy dropships -- literally dropping the Drones above the battlefield. The use of Drones in battle also helps save Tau lives, and to minimise the use of Fire Caste personnel in more mundane battlefield roles. The Fire Caste doctrine, as laid down in the Code of Fire, instructs all warriors to fight closely together, with each member of a team doing his utmost to protect not just his comrades, but also nearby teams in his Hunter Cadre. Using overlapping fields of fire, even Drone squadrons are able provide mutual support on the battlefield in the case of enemy assaults.
However, mobile Drones are not the only type to see action in battle. Drone intelligences are often built into Tau weapons systems, allowing them to be fully automated. One of the most widely found examples of a Tau formation composed entirely of Drone systems is found in the role of perimeter defence. These detachments are networked together to increase their efficiency and utilise a variety of systems, from the more common mobile Gun Drones to static emplacements of Drone Sentry Turrets and Remote Sensor Towers. These perimeter defence detachments can carry out multiple tasks during their deployment, ranging from the protection of strategic assets to providing defence-in-depth to a Tau front line. Drone units attached to defensive formations are customarily programmed to hold the line at all costs.
For Fire Warrior teams, Gun Drones are usually carried within their Devilfish transport, and these automatons detach themselves in combat to act as additional fire support, serve as forward scouts for the team, or guard a flank. Tau Commanders often possess personal Drones to carry extra shields, sensors or communications equipment. Drones attached to Tau masters are programmed to always protect their controllers, including, if necessary, getting in the way of incoming enemy fire or a melee assault. Indeed, the Shield Drone is designed to carry out exactly such a purpose.
Drones attached to a Tau Stealthsuit Team are always upgraded with a stealth field generator, which allows them to operate without compromising the Stealthsuit Team's own ability to remain undetected.
- Drone-Net VX1-0 - The Tau never waste lives needlessly, and there are times when Drones can be used to carry out a task in the place of living Tau warriors. Such formations are known as Drone-nets, and consist of a large number of Drones linked together to become a collective Drone swarm. A Drone-net can include all types of drone manufactured by the Tau, ranging from humble Gun Drones through to Pulse Accelerator Drones. The resulting formation is much greater than the sum of its parts when all the Drones are synced together. The Drones are able to share their collective data, making them a formidable army in their own right, quickly reacting to enemy movements and using the information they collect to enhance their firing solutions and tactical responses. A Drone-Net VX1-0 typically consists of 12 or more Gun Drones, Marker Drones, and/or Shield Drones at its core, and is able to include additional numbers of Sniper Drones, Missile Drones, Recon Drones, Grav-inhibitor Drones, and Pulse Accelerator Drones as part of its network.
Known Drone Types
- Aerial Drone Mine - Aerial Drone Mines are an airspace denial weapon. They are usually deployed by Tau aircraft in a contested airspace, where these Drone-controlled mines can engage any enemy aircraft that enters their vicinity.
- Camera Drone – A Camera Drone is a small form of Tau Drone equipped with a single camera and video recorder. They are often used to record and document events and interviews, and have been used in battle to record enemy unit movements.
- Chaff Drone – A Chaff Drone is a large and blocky Tau Drone that can be deployed by Tau ships as a defensive measure against enemy torpedoes. When deployed, they are released outwards from hatchways in swarms and will use their heat-seeking systems to home in on incoming ordinance and neutralise it with random pulses of magnetic interference to scramble guidance systems. If necessary, Chaff Drones will even place themselves directly in the way of a torpedo to detonate it prematurely.
- CL-31 Technical Drone - A CL-31 Technical Drone commonly serves as part of Air Caste ground crew in providing technical support when preparing aircraft for a mission and in analysing post-mission data. The CL-31 is just one of many other similar technical Drones that support Tau units in a wide variety of roles, such as the DX-4. The CL-31 Is superficially similar to a Gun Drone, except it is unarmed and unarmoured and lacks many of a Gun Drone's higher brain functions.
- Command-Link Drone - The Command-Link Drone is a unique Tau Drone utilised by Commander Shadowsun. It allows for better networking, through advanced communications, from Shadowsun to those under her command so that she may better direct the flow of a battle.
- Console Drone – A Console Drone is a small Drone that is merely a sleek and intelligent floating console screen that displays information. They are commonly found with Control Drone swarms and aid in displaying information to a Tau commander, such as an Air Caste voidship captain.
- Control Drone – A Control Drone is a tiny Drone often found as a swarm hovering around an important Tau official. Each Control Drone is inscribed with a simple touch control icon, and are used to dispatch relevant commands and orders to other Tau and/or AI systems far away. They are most commonly used by Air Caste commanders in managing their voidships.
- Courier Drone - A Courier Drone is a torpedo-like spacecraft used by the Tau Empire to communicate between distant worlds and the various Tau Septs. Courier Drones are entirely controlled by their governing Drone intelligence and are able to make interstellar jumps to deliver their encoded messages.
- DX-4 Technical Drone - DX-4 Technical Drones to provide maintenance and support to Tau vehicles and structures. DX-4 Drones are also capable of carrying a variety of systems to aid a Fire Warrior squad in battle.
- DX-6 Remora Drone Stealth Fighter - The DX-6 Remora Drone Stealth Fighter is a small drone fighter designed for scouting and reconnaissance missions. It is protected by a stealth-field generator and excels at conducting high-speed, hit-and-run attacks to disrupt enemy forces whilst supporting friendly Tau advances.
- DX-11 Exploratory Drone - The DX-11 Exploratory Drone was very recently developed by the Tau in response to the first encounter with the Space Hulk Mortis Thule in the Canis Salient of the Jericho Reach. It was developed alongside the XV46 Vanguard Void Battlesuit, and is designed to aid the pilots of those suits in Tau exploration expeditions into Space Hulks by acting as scouts and roaming areas autonomously whilst transmitting data on what it finds back to its operator.
- Earth Caste Builder Drone - An Earth Caste Builder Drone is a specialised type of Tau Drone that is designed to assist Tau Earth Caste units in the construction of Tau buildings, structures and support facilities in the field.
- Emitter Drone - Miniscule in size, Emitter Drones are released in large swarms by a Tau vehicle equipped with Decoy Launchers, and serve as a defensive measure against enemy missiles.
- Escort Drone - An Escort Drone is designed for use by Water Caste diplomats to aid them in their negotiations with other officials, whether they be Tau, Human, or other xenos. They incorporate information display equipment to aid them in this role, and are lightly armed for basic self-defence.
- Grav-Inhibitor Drone - A Grav-Inhibitor Drone is a Drone newly developed during the Third Sphere Expansion, and is most often found deployed with forward Pathfinder Teams. Grav-Inhibitor Drones are equipped exclusively with a Gravity Wave Projector that can slow down enemies trying to assault a fixed position long enough for the Pathfinders to escape and move out of harm’s way.
- Gun Drone - Gun Drones are one of the most common types of Tau Drone found in the Fire Caste. Wielding twin-linked Pulse Carbines, they act as fire support for Fire Warrior teams, and can pin enemy troops in place whilst the main body of a Tau army attacks
- Heavy Gun Drone - Heavy Gun Drones are a larger variant of the standard Gun Drone, and are sizeable enough to carry multiple heavy weapons (usually Burst Cannons) to lend direct fire support to Fire Warrior teams.
- Interceptor Drone - An Interceptor Drone rides within specially-designed cupolas in the wings of a Sun Shark bomber, where it utilises its twin-linked Ion Rifles to great effectiveness against infantry and aircraft alike. Interceptor Drones are fitted with powerful anti-gravitic motors to allow for high-velocity deployment whilst their mothership is in the air. They are also equipped with afterburners to allow for limited bursts of extreme speed during independent flight.
- Light Drone – A Light Drone is a form of Tau Drone that holds aloft a powerful light source. Their mobile nature makes them useful as they can be deployed wherever needed, such as in command meetings.
- Maintenance Drone - A Maintenance Drone is a small Drone used as part of a Tau vehicle's Automated Repair System. When released, Maintenance Drones will quickly swarm over damaged parts of the vehicle and perform field-repairs in the midst of battle.
- Marker Drone - Marker Drones carry Marker Lights, and will often be attached to Tau squads so that they may aid other squads by providing improved accuracy through the use of their Marker Light, which will allow more efficient targeting of the foe.
- Microdrone – A Microdrone is a unique, microscopic form of Drone similar to the human concept of nanobots, that was invented by Honour-Shas’vre O’Vesa. Microdrones operate within his body to support his physiological processes and repair cellular damage. Their efforts keep him alive even in his extended old age.
- Missile Drone - A Missile Drone is a new type of Drone developed during the Third Sphere Expansion. It is armed with a Missile Pod. Missile Drones are usually only found attached to XV88 Broadside Battlesuit Teams, where they can lend additional heavy firepower to a Battlesuit assault.
- MV36 Guardian Drone - The MV36 Guardian Drone was developed in response to the high number of casualties suffered amongst Fire Warrior Breacher Teams, and is able to project a mobile, invisible force-field that forms a dome over the Breacher Team that the drone accompanies. Because the shield has a large area of effect, it is not as powerful as that of a dedicated Shield Drone. However, footage exists of a MV36 Guardian Drone's shield turning aside shots from an Imperial Lascannon. The protective ability of the Guardian Drone is usually further bolstered by the field amplifier relays worn by members of Fire Warrior Breacher Teams.
- MV5 Stealth Drone - Deployed in pairs alongside XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuits, the dome of an MV5 Stealth Drone is studded with stealth field generators which match those found on an XV95 Ghostkeel's armour. Combined with its underslung stealth emitter, it is capable of projecting a stealth field over itself and its attending XV95 Ghostkeel. A pair of these overlapping fields can make both the Drones and the Battlesuit virtually invisible in open terrain.
- MV52 Shield Drone - An MV52 Shield Drone is a prototype variant of the standard Shield Drone, and is equipped with an especially powerful MV52 Shield Generator. Because of their experimental nature, only Commander Shadowsun has been accompanied by them to date.
- Networking Drone – Networking Drones are high-flying Drones that support Tau aircraft squadrons in localised airspace, although they are also able to provide Marker Light beam support to Tau ground units at low altitudes
- Pulse Accelerator Drone - A Pulse Accelerator Drone is a new type of Drone developed during the Third Sphere Expansion. It is most often found deployed with forward Pathfinder Teams. Pulse Accelerator Drones are equipped exclusively with a Pulse Accelerator that emits a powerful induction field capable of accelerating the charges of Pulse Weapons nearby, thus extending their range further than normal.
- Recon Drone - A Recon Drone is a new type of Drone developed during the Third Sphere Expansion. It is most often found deployed with forward Pathfinder Teams, especially those accompanied by a Devilfish transport. A Recon Drone is a relatively large mobile Drone, and is designed so that it is able to fit into a Devilfish’s cupola for easy transport and to link its systems with the Devilfish’s own. Each Recon Drone is armed with a fold-away Burst Cannon, and is also equipped with a Homing Beacon and a Positional Relay to help Tau forces held in reserve more accurately deploy onto a battlefield.
- Shield Drone - Shield Drones are designed purely to protect important Tau individuals, such as Tau Commanders and Ethereals. Shield Drones are armed with an advanced Shield Generator, which enables them to block and deflect even the heaviest of enemy firepower that is directed at their master.
- Shielded Missile Drone - A Shielded Missile Drone is a very recently developed experimental type of Drone that incorporates both a Shield Generator, like a Shield Drone, and a Missile Pod, like a Missile Drone. Shielded Missile Drones are only deployed alongside experimental XV104 Riptide Battlesuits, and enhance their combat effectiveness.
- Slave Drone – A Slave Drone is a tiny Drone sometimes provided to Tau Fire Warriors on special missions, such as during an enemy starship boarding action. Loaded with high density kles’tak explosives, they can be programmed with limited orders, such as moving to a specifc position whilst evading incoming enemy fire, before detonating themselves in a devastating explosion capable of even reducing Power-Armoured Space Marines to pulp.
- Sniper Drone - Sniper Drones are equipped with advanced stealth-field generators and devastating Longshot Pulse Rifles, so that they may provide pinpoint anti-personnel firepower.
- Speaker Drone (Transmitter Drone, Message Drone) – A Speaker Drone, also known as a Transmitter Drone or Message Drone, is a tiny drone equipped with a speaker on its top face and a microphone array on its bottom. Primarily used for communication purposes, Speaker Drones will roll over to expose the appropriate recorder/receiver as is required. Multiple Speaker Drones grouped together can provide a clearer and louder message when transmitting in unison.
- Surveillance Drone (Survey Drone, Monitor Drone) – A Surveillance Drone, also known as a Survey Drone or Monitor Drone, is a Tau Drone designed to be deployed at high altitudes to record and relay detailed sensory information back to the Tau. Each Surveillance Drone has a complex mélange of radiation echo-sensors, temperature gauges, multiple primary and secondary optical magnification filters, and vast memory banks to aid it in its intelligence-gathering mission. Surveillance Drones will often be deployed in large numbers across a wide area, where an AI-assembled mix of radar, laser grid and high altitude survey-drone telemetry can be melded together to expand a single Surveillance Drone’s field of vision. A Surveillance Drone's sensory equipment is so powerful that they are even able to map out subterranean topography.
- Warscaper Drone - A Warscaper Drone is a rare type of Tau Drone of Commander Farsight’s own invention. As such, it is only ever used by Farsight Enclave forces. Their role is to augment their owner’s own Battlesuit systems with detailed scans of the local environment, allowing him to easily draw the enemy into dangerous locations without putting himself in harm’s way. This exhaustive cartographic information can also be used by the Drone’s owner to more effectively navigate through the same dangerous terrain without coming to harm and to outflank enemy forces through hidden routes and paths.
Notable Drone Intelligences
- Area Denial Node - An Area Denial Node is a form of static, Drone intelligence-controlled heavy weapon placement which is employed by the Tau to defend vital strategic installations. Area Denial Nodes are able to provide massive screens of anti-armour and anti-personnel fire to Tau forces with their twin-linked Railguns which only the most determined of enemies will survive.
- Drone Sentry Turret - A Drone Sentry Turret is an automated and static weapon system that is controlled by a Drone intelligence. Drone Sentry Turrets can be armed with an array of weapons depending on what is needed of them, and will often be air-dropped into a position that the Tau need to defend.
- Heavy Railguns - Heavy Railguns are able to fire Drone-controlled submunition shells. The in-built Drone intelligence is capable of directing the shell with great accuracy towards its target. This is especially useful in void combat, where the shell is then able to strike weak points in the armour of enemy starships. "Dumbfire" Heavy Railgun submunition rounds lack the necessary penetrating power to punch through standard starship-grade armour.
- Remote Sensor Tower - A Remote Sensor Tower is a static, Drone-controlled information relay station, which is capable of scanning the surrounding area and relaying data on enemy movements to other Tau units in the vicinity. A Remote Sensor Tower is also able to use its own Marker Light to call in Seeker Missile Strikes on enemy targets
- Smart Missile - A Smart Missile System is able to fire self-guided missiles which contain Drone intelligences. This is so that the missiles are able to seek out their targets, navigating and bypassing any intervening terrain that would have blocked standard, "dumbfire" munitions.
- Starship Munitions – Drone intelligences are commonly incorporated into Tau starship munitions, such as powerful fusion capsules or Tau torpedoes.
- Vehicle Support Systems - Many Tau vehicles systems are Drone-controlled, such as the many Tau vehicle support systems which aid the pilot and gunner in battle. Drone-controlled Burst Cannons are also commonly mounted on Tau vehicles and aircraft, giving the vehicle or aircraft more firepower without the requirement of additional crew members.
- XV104 Riptide Battlesuit Systems - An XV104 Riptide Battlesuit incorporates advanced Drone AI systems that assist its pilot in combat by handling various systems within the Battlesuit, including its communications and targeting systems.
- Aeronautica Imperialis, pp. 58-59
- Apocalypse (6th Edition), pg. 177
- Apocalypse Reload, pg. 68
- Apocalypse Warzone: Damocles, pg. 58
- Codex: Tau Empire (7th Edition), pp. 30, 49, 119
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 12, 26, 32-33, 38, 45-46, 55, 69, 72, 101
- Codex: Tau Empire (4th Edition), pp. 26-27, 31, 35, 38, 47
- Codex: Tau (3rd Edition), pp. 17-18, 25, 28
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 367
- Deathwatch: Mark of the Xenos (RPG), pg. 12
- Deathwatch: Ark of Lost Souls (RPG), pg. 123
- Imperial Armour Aeronautica, pg. 64
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse, pp. 80, 83
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2013), pg. 123
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2nd Edition), pp. 83, 86
- Imperial Armour Volume Three: The Taros Campaign, pp. 184-193, 282, 284,
- Farsight Enclaves, A Codex: Tau Empire Supplement (Digital Edition), pp. 52, 55, 74, 87, 93, 245, 305-306, 315-316
- Rogue Trader: Tau Character Guide (RPG), pp. 22-23
- War Zone Damocles: Kauyon, pg. 56
- White Dwarf 336 (UK), Area Denial Node Apocalypse Datasheet, pg. 25
- White Dwarf Weekly Magazine 89 (October 10, 2015) "XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit", pp. 7-9
- The Greater Good (Novel) by Sandy Mitchell
- Fire Warrior (Novel) by Simon Spurrier