The T'au Merchant Fleet is the state-owned fleet of starships used by the T'au Empire to carry out all trade and commercial functions for its territory. As even commerce can be a dangerous business, with the threat of pirate raids and attacks from other stellar empires, each vessel of the T'au Merchant Fleet is well-armed and more than capable of protecting itself even from other military-grade starships.
Its vessels are comprised of older starships originally used for military purposes but now reassigned to purely civilian functions. Like all T'au spacecraft, the vessels of the T'au Merchant Fleet are operated by the T'au Air Caste.
The ZFR Horizon Accelerator Engine, also known informally as the ZFR Drive, is a system of interstellar starship propulsion that was the great invention of the T'au Earth Caste and allowed the T'au Empire to expand rapidly during the Second Sphere Expansion.
An ingenious design, this powerful new drive allowed T'au starships to attain velocities close to the speed of light. It is the primary means of T'au interstellar travel, and is now used by all the vessels of the T'au Merchant Fleet, some of which had to be retrofit to make use of the new drive technology.
In the early days of the T'au Empire's expansion into space, beginning in the 39th Millennium of the Imperial Calendar, the T'au saw little distinction between spaceborne commerce and conquest. Their heavily armed and armoured merchant starships served them well in their early conflicts with other galactic powers, and the T'au Empire rapidly expanded from its T'au homeworld.
Engagements with the Imperial Navy during the Damocles Crusade proved unfavourable to the T'au Fleet. In particular, the heavy losses suffered during the first engagement between the T'au and Mankind in the Hydass System proved that their navy was simply not capable of going toe-to-toe with the older empire.
Heavy losses suffered against an assault by Hive Fleet Behemoth also demonstrated that despite the valour of the Air Caste in every engagement, its vessels were out-gunned and lacked the needed maneuvrability to defeat other spacefaring species' starships. The Kor'vattra needed to develop better vessels and evolve its tactical doctrines.
With the blessing of the Ethereal Caste, T'au High Command ordered a major program of research and development and initiated a massive naval construction program known as the Kor'or'vesh initiative. The initiative would develop new starship designs for military use, built with the newest T'au technology and constructed around tactical paradigms informed by the costly losses already taken.
The program was given the highest priority, applied the best Earth Caste engineers to the project and spared no expense. The result were several new classes of T'au warships, beginning with the Il'Porrui-class Cruiser which served as a test bed for many of these new design philosophies, and continuing to include the Kir'shasvre Escort, and the mighty Or'es El'leath-class Battleship and its Kir'la-class gunships.
While individual voidcraft from this program were encountered by Imperial forces prior to the Taros Campaign, that conflict was the first time multiple examples of this generation of T'au starships would see battle against the vessels of the Imperium.
Today, the older generation of T'au warships still serve within what has been designated the Merchant Fleet. The T'au Merchant Fleet is composed of a smaller number of slow but still well-equipped and well-defended vessels. Each is capable of destroying the foe at a variety of ranges, relying on their formidable shields to keep the vessel intact while barrages of ordnance and torpedoes reduce the enemy to ruin.
At the same time, these ships' are primarily responsible for carrying out all of the T'au Empire's interstellar commerce, both between existing T'au Septs and with other starfaring species outside of the empire's territory.
Starships of the T'au Merchant Fleet
- Gal'leath (Explorer)-class Starship
- Bastion-class Commerce Vessel
- Kroot Warsphere
- Il'fannor (Merchant)-class Starship
- Lar'shi (Hero)-class Starship
- Nicassar Dhow
- Stronghold-class Commerce Vessel
- Kir'qath (Defender)-class Starship
- Skether'qan (Messenger)-class Starship
- Kass'l (Orca)-class Gunship
- Il'Emaar (Courier)-class Merchant Transport
- Battlefleet Gothic Armada II (PC Game)