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The Gal'leath (Explorer)-class Starship is a large Tau colonisation and exploration starship used in the Tau Kor'vattra, and was a breakthrough in Tau science that made the Tau Empire possible. When it was first produced, its massive reactor was capable of sustaining an Ether Drive over lengthy Warp dives, allowing for the ship to reach unprecedented speeds. Compared to Imperial Warp-Drives, this was slower by a factor of five, but it was adequate for the Tau's needs and allowed the Empire to expand far beyond its home star system to colonise previously unreachable expanses of space.
The Gal'leath-class Starship boasted a massive cargo capacity, extensive research facilities and, most importantly, the ability to serve as a mobile dock for semi-independent spacecraft. Its cargo bays were large enough to carry modular orbital units, waystations and even (more recently) message boats. It was the galleon of the Tau Empire and for nearly a hundred tau’cyr it was the only class of starship continually in production by Tau orbital stations. During this time, the Gal'leath underwent many iterations, from the Mark I to XXIII, and benefited from a succession of improvements and special adaptations with each upgrade.
However, the Tau Empire's first major conflicts with the Orks was the Gal'leath-class Starship's death knell. Whilst the equivalent in size to a Battleship, the Gal'leath was not a specialist warship and its weaponry was incapable of keeping Terror Ships and Kill Kroozers at a distance. As a result, work by the Earth Caste on the Il'fannor (Merchant)-class Starship was accelerated. When it finally went into full production, production of the now dated Gal'leath dropped by 85%.
- Dal'yth Gal'leath Kessan - This vessel may be the last of the Gal'leath-class Starships to be built in the Tau Sept Dal’yth. Gal'leath construction is now being wound down and most work involves converting the older Mark XXIII craft to the Mark XXIV design developed by the Water Caste of Bor’kan. Kor’O Kessan is a veteran captain of this class of ship and, together with the bulk of his crew, was assigned his new vessel after surviving an attack by Ork pirates on the edge of the Damocles Gulf. The Dal'yth Gal'leath Kessan has been outfitted with a complement of Mantas and is to be the flagship for a major expedition into the Farsight Enclaves under the overall direction of Aun'shi himself, and including a scientific team lead by the venerated biologist Por’O Jess’l. Much of this Gal'leaths' cavernous hold has been converted to laboratories prior to the mission.
Whilst production of the Gal'leath has largely ceased in the Tau Empire, refits of existing starships have continued. The most common configuration in use currently is the standard Vash'Ya Mark XXIII. This particular configuration is armed and equipped with a prow-mounted Railgun battery, five defensive turrets mounted around its hull, port and starboard launch bays each capable of carrying four squadrons of Barracuda fighters and Manta gunships, three Gravitic Hooks each capable of transporting a Kass'l (Orca)-class Gunship with the Gal'leath, and standard Tau starship class gravitic shielding.
The experimental Bor'kan Mark XXIV is another configuration currently in use that is largely similar to the Vash'Ya Mark XXIII, except it is fitted with an additional prow-mounted Gravitic Launcher weapons system. However, launch bay space in this variant has been reduced down to two squadrons a side in order to clear additional storage space for the weapon systems' drone-guided missile ammunition.
- Battlefleet Gothic Armada, pp. 98, 100-101
- Battlefleet Gothic Magazine – Issue 19, pp. 17-19