The Fourth Sphere Pt 2 - Elites

Next up in our tour of the Tau Empire's fighting forces, the elite section. Tau Empire cadres' elites choices are always dominated by the XV8, the workhorse of the Empire's military forces. With a wide variety of weapon loadouts, they can be tasked for anything from anti-horde (flamer/burst cannon) to anti-heavy infantry (plasma rifle/fusion blaster) to anti-light vehicle (twin-linked missile pod). The most common variant is the plasma rifle/missile pod combination, to provide long-ranged firepower that can take down light vehicles and heavy infantry, but the others do get the occasional look-in, as well. They're so vital to the proper prosecution of any cadre's campaign, in fact, that their diminutive counterparts are often forgotten about entirely.

But that's who we're here to talk about, today; the XV15 'Stealth Suit'.

The XV15 is generally ignored in favour of the XV8, and for good reason. With drones, burst cannons, railgun submunitions and pulse rifles and carbines, the Tau Empire theoretically has a wide variety of options for dealing with large numbers of lightly-armoured targets, whereas the targets the XV8 are tasked with destroying can be fruitfully engaged by them alone. In order to make the XV15 a more competitive option, then, its fundamental role needs to be explored. It seems reasonable to start the discussion off with a look at what makes them unique, which would be the stealth field. The stealth field makes any shooting at them fall under the Night Fighting rules, meaning they literally cannot be shot at from more than 36" away and that, on average, they can't reliably be shot at from more than 22"-23". It also means they count as being in cover if they're charged, giving them a good chance to do some damage to anything that's not equipped with offensive grenades.

So, what does this suggest? Well, combined with their current burst cannon loadout, it seems as though the XV15 was meant for relatively close-range anti-light infantry work. The problems with that, however, are many. The suits are too expensive to be a reasonable counter to large numbers of low-S/low-Sv models, their stats make them too fragile to survive the counter-charge even with the advantage of the stealth field, and their extremely limited weapons options (one in three can have a fusion blaster, which is completely at odds with their optimal targets, and the team leader can have a non-networked markerlight) gives them zero tactical flexibility. Unless a player knows he's going to be facing modestly-sized mobs of Ork boyz across a relatively open table, there's just no utility to them, especially compared to the utterly essential XV8s.

In order to make the XV15 a more competitive choice, then, it needs two things; a cost cut, and options. The current cost of an XV15 seems reasonable at first, but get past their 3+ save and Stealth Field, and all you've got is a Firewarrior with a tri-barrelled pulse carbine that doesn't pin. A drop in price of a third would make them a much more attractive option for bulking up often-small elites-heavy cadres, and would allow you to bring enough firepower to bear to make them worthwhile. As for their weapon options, flamers wouldn't be a terrible weapon for them, given their ability withstand a charge and the weapon's ability to ignore the only kinds of saves their optimal targets could hope for. The burst cannon isn't bad, though giving it pinning wouldn't go amiss, along with perhaps another shot. Plasma rifles, missile pods, fusion blasters and the like should be left for the XV8s, who've made them their own iconic armaments. But XV15s are also the only Tau Empire suit to benefit from the full jet pack rules, meaning they can move and fire heavy weapons, and there are two heavy infantry weapons that actually make perfect sense with these suits. The first is the markerlight, allowing for a smaller and more expensive, but hardier and more mobile, alternative to the Pathfinder squad. Allowing more than just the team leader to take this option would radically alter the purpose of an XV15 squad, and would make them significantly more competitive when it comes time to dole out the points. The other option is the rail rifle, again from the Pathfinders and more recently the Sniper Drone Team. Like the SDT the XV15 benefits from the synergy of the weapon's 36" range and the stealth field's ability to block return fire from beyond that range, but unlike the SDT the XV15s can exploit the weapon to its full potential, turning them from generic anti-light infantry to specifically outfitted MEQ-hunters, but in a way that makes them more than just a copy of the XV8 plasma rifle/missile pod combo. Given that most Tau Empire weaponry struggles to put wounds on Marines and make them stick, a squad of XV15s armed with rail rifles would be a very tempting choice, indeed.

None of these changes over-power the suit; the rail rifle comes close, but even then the Tau Empire routinely faces off against enemies who carry far greater numbers of heavy weapons among its infantry, some of whom can also move and fire with it. Opponents could hardly cry cheese, especially given the sorts of anti-horde firepower recent codices have been given access to, and more importantly, Tau Empire players would actually find themselves with a reason to field an XV15 squad.

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