This page represents a summary of the starship classes available to the T'au Navy, called the Kor'vattra in the Tau Lexicon. Even though the T'au are fairly new to space travel, they still present a powerful force to be reckoned with by the other starfaring species of the Milky Way Galaxy. Tau starships cannot use Warp-Drive technology since they as yet have very little knowledge about the Immaterium and have not developed psychic abilities.
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 mechanism allowed Tau starships to attain near-light speed. It is the primary means of T'au interstellar travel, and is used by all of the vessels of the Kor'vattra.
The T'au Empire has only expanded into space during the last thousand years. Despite this they have made remarkable progress in developing both civilian and military starships, and have now reached a level where their ships can be compared to Imperial designs. The development of the Tau fleet (known as the Kor'vattra in the Tau Lexicon) has been given the highest priority by the T'au Empire's ruling Ethereal Caste. Without the Kor’vattra the manifest destiny of the Tau could never be realised and as a species their existence would be at the mercy of celestial phenomena such as meteors or supernova. Once unified by the Ethereal Caste the Tau made incredible technological progress. By the 39th Millennium they had spread through the T'au System and ringed their homeworld with orbital research and manufacturing facilities. Further expansion required a superluminal drive system capable of spanning interstellar distances, but this proved to be a more formidable barrier than expected.
Tau vessels already used a form of gravitic drive. This technology projected a sheath of gravitic energy ahead of and around the vessel which was continually re-projected further ahead, drawing the ship behind it rather like an archaic sail. For two hundred tau’cyr the Earth Caste unsuccessfully grappled with the problem only for the breakthrough to be handed to them. On the innermost of T’au VII's moons a routine geological survey discovered the remains of an alien vessel. The significance of the find did not disrupt Tau society as much as might have been expected. Tau theorists had long reasoned that other life forms existed and the verification helped confirm the belief that there was a greater destiny awaiting them. No Tau commented on the unlikely good fortune of finding the technology that they so desperately needed on their doorstep just when they needed it.
The Tau were able to reverse-engineer and duplicate the Warp-Drive of the alien starship but the initial test flights were disastrous. Achieving transition to the Warp required more than technology, it required psychically attuned minds and the T'au race had developed no psykers. Without them to guide the transition, no amount of power could breach the dimensional barriers. The best the Tau could do was make a partial transition, forcing themselves into the void that separated Warpspace and realspace before they were hurled out again like a ball held under water, then released. Data gathered at great cost during the test flights was studied closely. The Earth Caste scientists made the observation that the boundary between realspace and Warpspace was not a neat line. It was closer to a turbulent ocean fomented by the tempestuous Warp tides below. By carefully angling their descent toward the Warp and extending the field generated by the gravitic drive into a wing, shaped to hold the vessel down, a Tau vessel could extend the duration of the dive considerably. The speeds achieved in the ascent back to realspace were staggering and this coupled with the effect of the Warp on space-time ensured that the real distance covered by this "Warp dive" was immense. Early tests lost several drone ships because they inadvertently passed far beyond the sensor range of their recovery vessels. The details were soon resolved. There was still a major constraint, only the most powerful (and bulky) drives could sustain the gravitic wing throughout the dive and the power drain meant that considerable recharge time was needed between dives. Also by comparison to actually navigating the warp the pace was still very slow. Taking typical Imperial Warp speeds the Tau drive was slower by a factor of five. The speed was consistent though, did not expose the Tau to the perils of the Warp and enabled the Tau to expand beyond their home star system for the first time.
The first major class of Tau starships built were the ponderous Gal’leath-class ("Explorer") vessels. These leviathans laid the foundations for the Tau Empire and formed the basis of the Kor’vattra for its first wars with the Orks and the Niccassar. The Niccassar were less advanced than the Tau and after their speedy defeat were one of the first intelligent races absorbed into the Empire as part of the Greater Good. The Orks posed a more difficult problem. Their ships were faster, better-shielded and more heavily armed than that of the Tau. Against such a dangerous enemy the Gal’leath-class was simply too expensive a resource to risk. Fortunately new, more compact gravitic drives led to the introduction of the smaller Il’fannor ("Merchant")-class. To counter the numerous Ork escorts the Tau developed their own Kass’l ("Orca") gunships. The Tau were slow to build a gravitic drive with sufficient power for Warp dives small enough to create an independent escort so the Kass’l would travel inside a larger vessels gravitic sheath over long distances, disengaging when back in normal space. This combined with the introduction of super-heavy ion cannons and Barracuda fighters helped restore the military balance, but it was the power and efficiency of the Tau shipyards that prevented the Empire from being devastated by Orks and Mankind alike.
Tau turrets are extremely sophisticated defensive starship defensive systems, combining a range of weapon types with overlapping fire zones.
Ion cannon shots vaporise the object struck, magnifying the energy discharge. Armour is of no value against them. They function the same as Imperial Navy starship lances in all respects.
Railguns of the size mounted on warships require massive amounts of energy to fire despite Tau superconductors. Because of this, power is routed to a single barrel at a time. The sequence is timed to ensure the first barrel is reloaded before it is charged again. Railguns function as standard weapons batteries.
Gravitic launchers are massive railguns where mass drivers trigger the initial acceleration before the starship's gravitic field is pulsed to squeeze the missiles toward the enemy at enormous speed. The missiles are drone-controlled and exceptionally dangerous.
Gravitic Hooks are large, suspensory arms which create a gravitic sheath in which a small vessel can be transported by a larger one.
Tau shields are formed by shaping the gravitic field to repel incoming fire. They function as normal Void shields in every respect.
The deflector is a specialised type of void shield generally mounted on the prow of the latest Tau starships. It turns the gravitic sheath around the vessel into a dense wedge, which is far more effective against incoming fire. If fired at from the front the deflector augments the passive armour of the Tau vessel. Deflectors are always mounted on the prow and will be disabled if the ship suffers damage to its prow.
Tau Skether'Qan-class starships boast highly advanced data storage and processing facilities to cope with the vast amounts of information they carry. When linked to ship sensors though this processing power can be used to provide a direct feed to the ships turrets. In fleet actions Skether'Qan-class starships can route this data to other nearby Tau vessels.
Gal'Leath (Explorer)-class Starship
The Gal'leath-class starship was the cornerstone of the early Tau Navy. Its massive Ether Drive allowed it to move through Warpspace at a pace 5 times slower than its Imperial counterparts, but this speed was fast enough to facilitate the expansion of the Tau Empire in its fledgling steps outside of its home star system. The Gal'Leath boasted a massive cargo capacity, extensive scientific research facilities and the ability to serve as a mobile dock for semi-independent starships. Its cargo bays were also 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. During this time it moved from Mark I to Mark XXIII, benefiting from a succession of improvements and special adaptations. Conflict with the Orks was the class' death knell. It was not a specialist warship and its weaponry was incapable of keeping Terror Ships and Kill Kroozers at a distance. Work on the Il'Fannor-class was accelerated. When it was complete, production of the Gal'Leath-class dropped by 85%. There are, however, still a number in service. The most recently completed member of the Gal'Leath-class was the Dal'yth Gal'Leath Kessan, the first of the Mark XXIV designs, and the Tau flagship in an expedition launched by Aun'shi to discover more about the breakaway Farsight Enclaves. It is unknown whether any further plans exist for continued support of this design.
Or'es El'leath (Custodian)-class Carrier
The Tau Navy's Or'es El'leath(Custodian)-class carrier is the largest of the starships built under the Tau Empire's Kor'Or'Vesh initiative to expand their military forces. Though it lacks the durability of other races' Battleships, the Or'es El'leath-class is armed to the teeth with every weapon in the Tau arsenal: a staggering array of Railgun batteries, Ion Cannons, and Gravitic Launchers; launch bays for Mantas and Barracudas; and three Gravitic Hooks for carrying Kir'la escorts. The Or'es El'leath's first major combat action came during the Taros Campaign, when the Or'es El'leath-class carrier A'rho led a Tau fleet against the Imperial forces seeking to retake that system from the Tau Empire. The A'rho acted as a decoy, drawing off several Imperial ships as two Lar'shivre-class cruisers wreaked havok on Imperial supply convoys.
Il'Fannor (Merchant)-class Starship
The Il'Fannor-class was originally developed to be the new workhorse of the Tau Empire. Its reactors were a fraction the size of the much larger Gal'Leath-class' power plant but were capable of reaching a third of the average Warp speed of an Imperial starship, making them significantly faster. This was deemed essential to bind together the emergent Tau Empire. Conflict with the Orks caused significant revision of the design with field modifications that allowed virtually all of the cargo space to be converted to weapons systems if needed. The continued requirements of the fleet ensured that the Il'Fannor-class remained predominantly a warship until the Lar'Shi-class was laid down.
Lar'Shi (Hero)-class Starship
The pinnacle of Tau technology, the Lar'Shi-class was the product of the Tau's first experience with the Imperial Navy during the Damocles Gulf Crusade. The Tau were determined that they should have a starship that could match the Imperial Lunar-class Cruiser. As soon became evident, the Tau designers failed at this task but they did succeed in producing a credible ship of the line in the Lar'shi-class.
Lar'shi'vre (Protector)-class Cruiser
The Tau Navy's Lar'shi'vre (Protector)-class Cruiser is the Tau Empire's primary warship, purpose-built for engaging and destroying enemy starships. Two Lar'shi'vre cruisers participated in the Taros Campaign, wreaking havok upon Imperial shipping as the Or'es El'leath-class carrier A'rho drew off part of the Imperial fleet. While lacking the armoured bulk and potent, layered defenses of its Imperial counterparts, the Lar'shi'vre-class' firepower allows it to go head-to-head with them nonetheless, unleashing terrible barrages of Railgun battery, Ion cannon, and Gravitic-launched missiles alongside its squadrons of Barracudas and Mantas.
Il'porrui (Emissary)-class Starship
The Tau Navy's Il'porrui (Emissary)-class starship is designed for the transport of Tau dignitaries like Ethereals, Fire Caste commanders, and Water Caste diplomats, and not as a true warship. However, it is armed well enough to protect itself, with gravitic launchers, Railgun batteries, and a pair of launch bays. It is further protected by a deflector that enhances the effectiveness of its front armour. Il'porrui-class starships are becoming increasingly common within the Tau Empire, roving far and wide on diplomatic missions and as merchant vessels.
Kir'Qath (Defender)-class Starship
Just as the Lar'shi is the Tau response to the Imperial Lunar-class Cruiser, the Kir'Qath is their answer to the Imperial Sword-class Frigate. The Kir'Qath is the only true escort in the Tau fleet and is used in squadron formations to provide close support for the larger vessels. Its main weakness is the lengthy recharge time for its Phased Warp-Drives. It can make up to half a dozen Warp dives in succession but will then be unable to do any more for at least a rot'aa. This means it is not suitable for scouting as it either travels slowly across interstellar space or risks being unable to retreat when it arrives. This can make it a liability in rapid fleet maneuvers. Consequently, Kir'Qath-class squadrons are spread through Tau space where heavier units can call upon them for support if required.
Skether'Qan (Messenger)-class Starship
The Skether'Qan is the smallest self-sufficient Tau Navy vessel. It mostly comprises a gravitic drive and a cargo hold but it is occasionally used as a fleet scout because it is quite maneuverable and has unmatched data-handling and communications facilities. These systems were soon adapted for combat applications. The Skether'Qan's weaponry is purely intended to deter pursuit, so in fleet actions it tends to stay close to a capital ship, helping against attack craft in return for protection against true warships.
Kass'L (Orca)-class Gunship
The Kass'L-class was designed to provide the Tau fleet with an Escort starship. Unable to build a drive light enough to produce a normal escort, the Kass'L is transported within a capital ship's gravitic sheath. Once unleashed, however, it is a powerful gunship able to contend with any Imperial or Ork escort vessel of similar size.
Kir'la (Warden)-class Carrier Escort
The Kir'la (Warden)-class Escort is a small Tau spacecraft that, lacking a Gravitic drive, must be carried into battle via Gravitic Hooks. It commonly accompanies the Tau Navy's Or'es El'leath Carrier into battle, as the larger starship contains three Gravitic Hooks purpose-built for carrying Kir'las. Three Kir'la-class ships fought alongside their mothership, the A'rho, during the Taros Campaign.
Kir'shasvre (Castellan)-class Heavy Escort
The Kir'shasvre (Castellan)-class Heavy Escort is a Tau gunship designed during the Tau Empire's Kor'Or'Vesh initiative. It is armed with a Gravitic Launcher and relatively heavy Railgun Battery, and is roughly analogous to the Imperium's Sword- and Firestorm-class frigates. Twenty Kir'shasvres accompanied the Tau fleet during the Taros Campaign.
The Orca Dropship is a dedicated transport vehicle, designed to ferry troops and supplies between orbiting starships and a planet's surface. Despite sharing a codename with the Kass'l-class Gunship, the Orca Dropship is a pure-bred troop transport designed for use in relatively secure areas, and as such carries only minimal armaments.
The Tau Manta Super Heavy Lander is a Missile Destroyer that serves as the Tau equivalent of an Imperial Titan and specialises in supporting ground assaults. It is the largest dropship of its kind, carrying staggering numbers of Fire Caste Warriors into battle, supported by dozens of Gun Drones as well as XV8 Crisis Battlesuits. The Manta consists of two decks, an upper deck where Fire Warriors sit as well as an overseeing member of the Ethereal Caste, and a lower deck, where up to four Devilfish or two Devilfish and two Hammerheads can sit. In addition, up to eight fully armed XV8 Crisis Battlesuits can sit in the lower deck, with half a dozen gun drones up top. The Manta is piloted by at least four Air Caste pilots.
Orbitals (Space Stations)
The Tau have made extensive use of the space stations called orbitals since their earliest forays in space. The Air Caste had always been at the forefront of the conquest of the upper atmosphere for the Tau and provided enthusiastic crews for the first orbitals. Many orbitals exist purely to provide homes for the Air Caste. Others are used for manufacturing and interstellar trade. Normally, individual orbitals are assembled into arrays of up to five individual orbitals which are all linked together.
Orbital waystations are distributed through the Tau Empire. These mark the main routes between Tau Septs (colony worlds) and are used to speed communications between outposts, since the Tau cannot rely on Astropathic messengers as they do not possess any psykers. These waystations typically consist of a core orbital module and a security module for defence.
- Battlefleet Gothic - To Unite the Stars: Tau Vessels
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 11-13
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - The Taros Campaign, pg. 212 (Or'es El'leath Battleship Picture)