::Now updated for 5th Ed::
Since Apocalypse, flyers have started to become more and more common. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and try to write a tactica for them. Since I only have battlefield experience with the mother of all flyers, the Manta, I would appreciate it if anyone else in the community who has fielded flyers chimed in and add their input. Hopefully we can condense every thing down to a coherent tactica for everyone else to benefit from.
Since flyers are only really 'official' in Apocalypse, I will use that set of rules for this discussion.
Flyer Tactics 101: Flight School1. Know the rules.
As stated in the Apocalypse rulebook, fliers must move 36' minimum.
In addition, you may instead of maneuvering opt to leave the table instead. I'll later go into why this is a good if not excellent tactic depending on the circumstances.
Since none of our aircraft can mount bombs of any kind, the usual tactics of over flying enemy positions in order to bring ordinance to bear, is no longer necessary.
2. Deploying Aircraft
Since fliers deploy anywhere they want, it's not about where to place them but more when. Unless you have the Careful Planning stratagem, your flyer will have at most five turns to attack. Enemy interceptors and the Long Range Ack Ack stratagem can reduce this number even further. Since only our transports can count as scoring units (Yes they don't have hover mode but since that the only legal way for them to drop infantry in Apocalypse . . .), it makes sense to bring flyers in as soon as possible.
Well, how do we do this? One thing to do is keep an equal or greater number of units in reserve as you do flyers. This means you can deploy all your flyers at once instead of bringing them in piece-meal. This has the added bonus of saturating your opponent's anti-air defenses forcing him to pick his targets carefully. As mentioned above, the Careful Planning stratagem allows you to bring half your Strategic Reserve in on turn one allow a player who invests heavily in air support to get the most strafing runs for his buck.
As for placing flyers, not much tactics is involved. All shots from a flyer hit side armor so it make little difference where the shots are coming from. Be careful though about racing across the table to hit some prestigious target as this also places you in range of all sorts of weapons including pintle-mounted bolters, Orks who have nothing better to shoot at, etc.
If you are running interceptors, be sure to space them at least 36' apart. This allows each aircraft to support each other with their full armament.
Flyer Tactics 102: Air to Mud
Lets face it; Tau flyers are our main counter to the various superheavies in the other army lists. To help in that mission, all our aircraft are multi-role. Unlike the Imperium we do not have a dedicated fighter or a dedicated bomber, our aircraft can switch from anti-tank duty to infantry suppression just as easily as flipping a switch. The role of Tau flyers is to attrition the enemy to the point where they are manageable by the fire warriors and Crisis suits on the ground. To help out the ground pounders, there are a few things to do to get the most out of your aircraft.1. Fire Seeker Missiles!
The Seeker Missiles on your aircraft can only be fired when the aircraft is on the table. This may seem like common sense but remember that Long Range Ack Ack and interceptors can reduce the number of turns that your flyer is on the table. In addition, every seeker missile you don't fire is 10 points wasted. Fire them while you have the chance.2. Support the grunts
Tau flyers as mentioned earlier are multi-role craft. Even our air superiority Barracuda is as lethal a hunter of infantry as it is of tanks and aircraft. The long range of Tau weapons mean that we do not need to over fly enemy positions to do damage. Add that to fact that our offensive superheavies carry a balanced load out of long ranged artillery and close in weapon systems means that the Tigershark and Manta can fire their railguns safely over Tau lines avoiding most of the enemy AA units while strafing the unit of Marines about to charge your line with burst cannons and missile pods.
Now there are times when it will be worth the risk to end the movement phase over the enemy positions. Deep striking gun drone from the back of a Ionshark is a good example, as is positioning your Orca after dropping off troops so you get rear armor shots at 3 Leman Russ tanks with seeker missiles.3. Big Game Hunter or How to Kill a Superheavy
Everyone knows that titans are big scary things that can cause a lot of damage. What some people also know the best way to kill a superheavy is in assault. Unfortunately the Tau aren't exactly known for their prowess in hand to hand so we need to come with another way . . .
The answer, of course, is the railgun. The weapon that serves so well popping monoliths and Landraiders works just as well putting holes in big shiny hundreds-of-points superheavies. If the target has no void shields, plink away and pray that you aren't caught in a nuclear explosion that wipes out a quarter of the table (trust me you do NOT want that to happen.) If voids shields stand between you and perforated titans be sure to take them out using weaker weapons such as Ion cannons, missile pods, and seeker missiles, weapons that our flyers have in abundance. Finally you can whip out the Twin Linked heavy railgun and blast the big bull's-eye into the warp.
To summarize the above, flyers are excellent at weakening a Titan before you try to finish off with either Railguns or Heavy Rail Guns should you opt to take them.
::UPDATED FOR 5th Ed::
With AP1 now adding +1 to the damage charts, railguns are not even better at popping superheavies. Heavy Railguns are now the undesputed king of ranged Titan hunting as you can now knock off a structure point on a 3 and critical on a 4+
4. Know Your Type
Know what your flyers are good for and send them at proper targets. It makes no sense to have a Barracuda make attack runs on a Land Raider when you have a railhead nearby to do the job. Save heavy railguns for superheavies and don't panic when a cloud of interceptors appears over the horizon to challenge you. Diverting your secondary weapons to drive off enemy aircraft is a waste of ammo and beside that's what you brought fighter escorts for right?
------------------------------------------------------------------------Flyer Tactics 103: Dogfighting
Dogfighting in Apocalypse can be summed up in four words. Strength Shots, Numbers, and OrderStrength:
Since most aircraft are AV 10, even the most basic weapons have a moderate chance of doing damage and offensive weapons (Str 6 or higher) have a better then even chance of knocking a fight out of action for at least a turn. In addition they also have the ability to damage superheavy fliers.Shots:
Since non AA mounted weapons only hit on a 6+ and flyers can only be glanced, you want as many shots as you can get so you can get the most amount of glances possible. Because of this, non AA twin linked weapons can be considered to have almost double their number of shots
::EDITED FOR 5th Ed::
Flyers are no longer auto-glanced but now recieve the SMF 4+ cover save (Though this is subject to debate, so play however your group decides
). However number of shots is still more important then quality.Numbers:
In a dogfight, the amount of points is invalid; the number of models is what counts. In a 4 v 3 scenario, the smaller force can only disable up to 3 enemy aircraft per turn leaving one free to either attack back or strafe ground troops. In order to win the small force must cause enough casualties in one turn to gain the numerical advantage.Order:
Who goes first will often determine who wins the dogfight. Who ever can go first can disable or kill a number of enemy fighters thus gaining the numerical advantage as stated above
Now how do we turn each of these situations to our favor?
Strength is well covered since every weapon in the Tau arsenal can do damage in a dogfight but on the other hand, Str 5 Heavy 3 weapons are common as aircraft mounts.Shots:
The Barracuda can put out five Str 7 (3 at normal ballistic skill, 2 twin linked) and six Str 5 shots per turn at one enemy aircraft.
Compare this to the Imperial Thunderbolt which has 2 twin linked AA autocannons and a long barreled lascannon for a total of 4 Str 7 shots and 1 Str 9 shot. While the Barracuda can score more hits, the Thunderbolt can lay down an effective barrage of hard-hitting fire. Who wins in this regard is more of a matter of who goes first.Numbers:
Tau cannot win the numbers game if your opponent spent as much on points as you did on interceptors. Due to the multi-role nature of our aircraft, we pay more for them and will usually be on the loosing side of this equation.Order:
Winning Order is a matter of tactics. If one of your fighters is shaken during a dogfight, use your movement phase that turn to remove it from the board. If all it's seeker missiles have been launched, no opportunity has been lost during that turn. This is the main reason for the seeker missile section in the Air to Ground portion. Once you fighter is off the board he can no longer be shaken and can come back next turn to pounce on the tail of whomever you choose with its full arsenal. Also this is why know when to deploy your aircraft is important. Too soon and you can be attacked by enemy combat air patrols, too late and you wont be able to contribute to the battle.
However the best response to all these situations is an example of combined arms. While normal air force pilots would be worried to operate within the envelope of friendly SAMs during a combat mission, fortunately, 40k does not worry about fratricide. An Anti Air Sky Ray can contribute up to six Str 8 AA weapons and combined with a Armored Interdiction Cadre can mark targets anywhere in the sky. These missiles if they hit can easily switch the numbers of the fight to favor the Tau thus giving the Air Caste the advantage they need. Just be sure to bring a disruption pod since the Sky Ray must remain stationary to fire its AA missiles.
Flightschool 104: Scramble!
Previously we discussed how to deal with attacking enemy fighters, but what if we are the ones doing the attacking. Bombers are incredibly difficult to bring down and require concentrated firepower while at the same time fighting your way through any fighter escorts that seek to stop you from destroying your opponents precious air support. Now how do we stop these behemoths?
1. Kill the escorts first
You may be tempted to send everything you have at the Thunderhawk gunship screaming down at you but ignoring the Lightning and Thunderbolt fighters behind it is a lethal mistake. It takes a group of interceptors to bring down a superheavy flyer and for every Barracuda sent against the gunship there is one less to help win the numbers game in the dogfight. Once you win the dogfight swarm the bomber with everything you got. Most superheavy flyers lack AA mounts and will be unable to effectively return fire without breaking off from their attack runs and any turn where that bomber is tangled up with your fighters is one that its not bombing your forces.2. Focus Fire
Superheavy flyers are durable. Not only do they have structure points, you can only hit on a 6+ and only on a damage result of a 6 will do you do any real damage to them. This means you need a lot of firepower to bring one down. Any ground unit that can reach should open fire if no other priority targets exist. Broadside can act as decent AA weapon since do to their twin linked railguns they have approximately 30% chance to hit.3. Anti Aircraft Fire
Long Range Ack Ack can be a potent tool to drive off enemy bombers. Most AV10 bombers will not want to risk three Str 8 auto hits and if they choose to force their way through they will take damage in the process. Against flyers with a decent armor value, Thunderhawks for example, this strategy is less effective but you can still disable a weapon for a turn.
------------------------------------------------------------------------Flightschool 105: Supporting Your Flyers
As stated before Tau flyers are not flying death machines but efficient support for ground forces. Of our fliers, only our flying transport can count as scoring units. This means that a commander that invest heavily in aircraft will be forced to rely on his tanks and infantry even more to claim objectives. Just as Tau flyers support the troops, troops are needed to operate flyers at maximum efficiency.1. Markerlights
More then the other units in our list, flyers need markerlights. With only seeker missiles and direct fire weapons, our flyers are reliant on BS to kill things. Also unless you plan to focus fire one one unit at a time, multiple markerlight sources will be needed to light up the numerous tanks that you see in Apocalypse.2. Anti Armor
Tau flyers excel at killing light armor but have trouble with AV12 and higher. While heavy railguns can do the job, it's usually better to save them for the big guns. To make up for this, the troops used in a flyer heavy army should be equipped to deal with heavy armor and plan accordingly. Whether this take the form of railheads, BASS units, or deep striking Crisis or Stealth Teams is a matter of personal preference.
::EDITED FOR 5th Ed::
Adjusted AV from 13 to 12 due to glancing hit change3. YATYAS
Believe or not the most versatile form of support for your flyers is the Armored Interdiction Cadre. With D3+1 markerlight hits per turn, and the possibility to have AA Skyrays in the formation, makes for a groups that can take down enemy armor, sweep the skies clear, and mark targets for destruction all in one turn.
------------------------------------------------------------------------Flight School 106: Evasive Action
List of Threats (In order of threat)
2. Dedicated AA vehicles (Long Range Ack Ack falls under this category)
3. Other AA mounts
4. Random shooting
These represent the various dangers to your flyers. Interceptors are at the top mainly due to flyer movement rules. It doesn't matter where you are on the map, they can reach you and get shots into your rear armor. AA vehicles are an almost equal threat but due to their limited range they can be outmaneuvered. Pintle-mounts suffer from that same drawback as well.Common Threats:
Most imperial aircraft will be similar to our own. However they tend to focus on quality of shots vs quantity. However with the right strategic asset, they can make multiple bombing runs and can make our ground troops feel like hell.
The hydra on the other hand deserves respect. Depending on whether your using the Apocolypse rules or the new IG codex, you be dealing with either an AA mounted set of autocannons or a cheap dakkaspewer that will ignore your SMF cover. In either case it can match your range so markerlight it up and hopefully try to kill it at long range with seeker missiles.
Now these you need to watch out for. They're cheap, have loads of dakka, and will bomb you to pieces even quicker then the Imperials. Loota's can function as AA batteries in a pinch and since the difference between hitting on fives and hitting on sixes isn't that big of a deal for an ork, they might just try for laughs. Their aircraft also posses the best AA weapon in the game; The supa-rokkit. Hitting and glancing on a 2+, these can turn the tide against you real quick.
Eldar rule the skies. There's not much more you can say then that. With a large number of superheavy bomber/transport and fighters with all AA weaponry they will easily get air superiority. That said they'll be paying a lot of points for that abilities so you might be able to outnumber them and force a win through attrition.
Here I'll be going over the various aircraft in the Tau arsenal. Note due to the fact that most of our aircraft have not been updated for Apocalypse this section will be subject to change.
I will be making distinctions between offensive and defensive aircraft. Defensive aircraft are reactive by nature. A Barracuda waiting in reserve to pounce on an enemy fighter is a defensive aircraft while a Barracuda strafing a unit of guants within charge range of a fire warrior squad is offensive.Barracuda
Repeat after me, 'This is not an fighter', 'This is not a fighter'. The Barracuda is multi-role fighter bomber which has the ability to do air to air combat as a side benefit. The Barracuda is more like the USMC F/A-18 then the USAF F-22; It can fight aircraft if needed but is much better at attacking enemy positions. Due to its lighter armament the Barracuda should operate in front of the flanks of the Tau battleline in order to get as many side armor shots as it can.Remora Drone Fighter
With the current rule set, Remoras have two battlefield roles. SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) and behind the lines artillery hunting. It's stealth field allows it to operate over enemy territory letting it hunt down hydras, basilisks, and whirlwinds with little fear of retaliation. Once its seeker missile are expended, the Remora can revert back to an anti infantry role.Tigershark
The Tigershark is in many ways, an upgraded ground-attack Barracuda. It's more accurate and has an extra structure point to help it survive longer and can trade its twin linked ion cannons and drone rack for a heavy railgun.
The heavy railing is the best reason to take the Tigershark. As stated earlier, its now one of the best weapon we have for popping superheavies. The fact that the submunition template is now 10" Str 7 AP3 doesnt hurt either.
The tigershark even with its large point cost has a few things going for it; It has six seeker missiles allowing it to do a tremendous amount of damage with propermarker light support. Also, its networked markerlight can allow it to fire at BS 5. It also has structure points making it quite durable despite only having AV10.Orca Dropship
The Orca dropship excels at getting troops where they need to be. With the ability to drop troops with no scatter anywhere along its flight plath, the Orca can be use to ferry response teams around the battlefield. Unfortunately do to the wording in IA3, troops that disembark that turn cannot do anything until their next turn.Manta
Having actually fielded a Manta in an Apoc game and I can tell you that its a waste of points as an offensive weapon.
Changes made in this game consisted of changing the Heavy Railgun to Str D AP1, making the submunition template 7". In addition the number of access points was increased to 4 to allow all vehicles to exit the Manta in one turn.
Useful for killing super heavies and the submunition is very efficient in nuking closely grouped SM squads.
TL Ion cannons:
Good at killing transports, side armor and Marines if nothing else is available.
I actually forgot that I had them for most of the battle but usual uses apply.
Drone Controlled Burst cannons:
Even at BS 2, these are your best bet against terminators. Since these can be affected by markerlights, they can lay down a rather impressive burst of fire. Plus the look on your opponents face when you tell them that 16 Burst Cannons are firing at their terminators is quite amusing.
Since you can only fire 2 missiles per turn, I didn't find them that useful but if you have the markerlight support you might as well use them.
With 10 Structure points, and a 4+ Invulnerable Save, there is a very good chance at surviving the battle. In my game, my opponent opted to ignore the Manta, instead choosing to fire on the supporting ground troops.
The Manta is best used to DEPLOY troops to an advantageous position and then provide anti-infantry support. Therefore, the unit carried in the Manta should compose of anti-tank or multi-role crises suits and vehicles. Crisis suits should deploy while in flight to pave the way for the vehicles.
This is my interpretation of how to use the Manta.
I personally feel that if you want air support for your cadre, your better off using Barracudas and Tigersharks as for the same points you can deliver up to:
20 Seeker missiles and 2 Networked MLs
4 TL MP
8 Burst cannons (4 at BS 4 and 4 at BS 3)
2 Ion cannons at BS 3
Either 2 TL Ion cannons at BS 4 and 28 Gun drones or 2 TL Hvy Railguns
2020 for 2 Barracudas and 2 Railsharks with max seeker missiles or
1720 for 2 Barracudas and 2 Ionsharks with max seeker missiles and 28 gun drones
As opposed to the Manta which has:
1 TL Hvy Railgun
3 TL LB Ioncannons
1 TL MP
10 Seeker and a Networked ML, of which only two may be fired.
16 LB BC at BS 2.