It's been too long since I last looked into a unit in Tau in depth, but her'es a unit that I've been trying to look at rationally and civilly. The sky ray has often been the little brother of the hammerhead, but both benefitted from the changes in sixth edition. Tau armies rarely have surplus heavy support slots, whether they be friendly or competitive. So, while the sky ray has the potential to be a very useful vehicle in the Tau toolbox, it is in competition with broadsides, hammerheads and sniper drone teams for a place in the FOC. It is in competition with units from other codices, like riflemen dreadnoughts and the hyrdra for the role of anti-air defense.
The initial description of a sky ray is more important than it was for other units as, I and possibly you dear reader, have never seen one of these tanks fielded. The sky ray comes with a pair of networked markerlights and six seeker missiles. The networked markerlights make the skyray capable of loosing its own seekers and make it possibly the most durable markerlight outlet. However, its inability to fire its seekers without a markerlight hit means that its markerlights will primarily be used to fire its own weapons rather than contributing to the rest of the army. Like all other seeker missiles, the sky ray's missiles are non-replenish-able, so it can at best hit with six missiles, but can only expect to hit with five. While the ability to fire each weapon at a different target makes the sky ray an interesting vehicle and allows it to maximize its firepower, it still seems lackluster to me.
The sky ray's aesthetic seems to suggest that it is designed to be an anti-aircraft vehicle. This suggestion was emphasized by Games Workshop. When Apocalpyse Reloaded launched, one of the bundles available was the skysweep missile defense wing, consisting of two sky rays and a devilfish. Here is the description, cited from GW's website:
All Tau Hunter Cadres maintian a pool of Sky Ray Missile Defense Gunships. These are employed primarily in an anti-tank role but they are also highly proficient as an anti-aircraft weapons system. When fighting larger scale engagements, many Fire Caste commanders call upon a 'Skysweep' Missile Defense Wing to provide dominance of the air over the battlefield.
|¡Si, estoy enojado!|
You may argue that this is a symptom of the rules for fliers and changing between apocalypse and sixth edition, but they have largely remained the same. The datasheet for the skysweep formation does allow the sky ray to perform its anti-aircraft role and provides two interesting tricks for merely the price of 150 points and the cost of an otherwise superfluous devilfish that must remain alive for either of the tricks to work. Those 150 points buy a networked markerlight on the devilfish, the tricks and the precursor to skyfire for all markerlights in the formation.
|Data, you just...you...sigh|
Taking an inexpensive varient of the sky ray, with burst cannons, targeting array and a disruption pod, the sky ray clocks in at a mere 145 points, nearly double the cost of a single hydra. The sky ray is undoubtedly more durable than the hydra, and I will grant that has considerable value. However, the hydra is less effective against an armor 13 ground target in terms of effective hull points (0.2037) than is the sky ray (0.3704). Against armor 12 the hydra can expect 0.4074 hull points while the sky ray can expect 0.5556. Against armor 11 the hydra gets 0.6111 while the sky ray gets 0.7407 hull points. Against armor 10 the hydra gets 0.8148 while the sky ray gets 0.9259. While these numbers are probably as mind numbing for you as they were for me, it illustrates how much parity there is against light armor between a single sky ray and a single hydra while there is such a disparity in points.
As far as Tau anti-tank is concerned, the sky ray's armaments are a joke. Missiles are a legitimate anti-tank option for most codices, but we are talking about Tau. For Tau, railguns are the gold standard and anything that tries to compete must have volume of fire and the sky ray does not. I would love to say this unit is worth taking, but I simply cannot through a combination of high cost, low damage output and having to compete against other heavy support options that Tau rely on.
You could object that I'm comparing a fourth edition codex to fifth edition codices and it isn't a fair comparison. That would be a legitimate counter-argument if we were still playing fourth edition with fourth edition codices. However, I am playing sixth edition, with a fourth edition codex against primarily fifth edition codices. As soon as my opponents play fourth edition codices or Tau are a sixth edition codex I'll stop complaining like this because I know no one likes it. I don't like doing it. But when I set out to do these in-depth looks at individual units, I decided I had to examine them in context. That context is the mix of fourth, sixth and fifth.
I'm Undergound Heretic and I get to live with that every day!