How do the Tau know what a hammerhead shark looks like? Hell, how does the Imperium know what one looks like? I can’t imagine that there are a lot of conservation programs in the Terran hive cities. Click to read the updated CA2018 article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The Hammerhead is the primary battle tank of the Tau military, serving as the mainstay of its mobile heavy firepower. While units like the Riptide may be newer and more advanced, the Hammerhead is produced in numbers that far exceed such platforms and thus is a far more established part of Tau military doctrine. Indeed, the Hammerhead was one of the earliest Tau units that the Imperium became familiar with during their initial clashes, as its distinctive silhouette and ability to shatter the armor of a Leman Russ at extreme distances made it the terror of tank crews on many a battlefield. There are incidences of singular Hammerheads holding off whole Leman Russ battalions over exposed ground, using their superior range and striking power to shred their foes before they can close.
On the tabletop, the Hammerhead is a fairly standard tank in most respects, although its statline has some nice standouts. A movement of 12″ with the Fly keyword give it above-average mobility when necessary, although it typically wants to sit still in order to fire to maximum effect. Toughness seven and thirteen wounds as well as a 3+ armor save make it slightly tougher than most similar tanks, although not to a major degree. Ballistic skill 3+ is something of a surprise for a Tau unit but well appreciated, though of course its melee combat stats are all pretty much garbage. Coming in at 154pts for the basic chassis (with Railgun/Burst Cannons) it’s a touch more expensive than we might like, but still a very fair price all things considered.
Special Rules and Wargear
A Hammerhead has all of the usual special rules you’d expect from a Tau vehicle- it hovers, it can explode, and the drones start attached to it and disembark in the way that drones do. None of the rules are unique to it, and they typically don’t have a lot of effect on the game overall.
The Hammerhead’s armament, however, is much more interesting. It comes with a main gun and two close-defense weapons, which each have multiple options. The main gun is by default a Railgun, which fires either solid shot (72″ S10 AP-4 DmgD6 Heavy 1, 6s cause d3 mortals) or submunitions (72″ S6 AP-1 Heavy D6), which gives it a pretty flexible overall profile- though the random shots on the submunition and singular shot with random damage on the solid round make it a very unreliable gun overall. The Ion Cannon is 5pts more expensive and also has two fire modes- standard (60″ S7 AP-2 Dmg2 Heavy 3) or overcharged (60″ S8 AP-2 Dmg3 Heavy d6, 1s cause a mortal wound to the vehicle). While there is some value to the standard mode for reliability, the abundant ability to reroll 1s to hit as well as several potential sources of +1 to hit make the overcharge mode something of the default- and the Ion Cannon’s superior numbers against almost all targets likewise make it the default choice over the Railgun in virtually all circumstances.
The secondary armament is either a pair of Burst Cannons (18″ S5 AP0 Assault 4), a pair of Gun Drones for +4pts (each armed with a pair of Pulse Carbines, giving essentially the same stats as before), or a pair of Smart Missile Systems (30″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4 ignore LOS/cover) at +14pts total. All three weapon systems actually have very similar outputs, with the same total number of shots and strength, but each has some advantages that we can at least consider. Gun Drones are probably the least useful, as their ability to detach during the game is not generally something you will want to take advantage of due to the Hammerhead’s superior movement speed and ballistic skill, not to mention the fact that you need to pay a premium to get them. Burst Cannons are the cheapest of the three, and though they hit just as hard as the others when they get to fire, the short range on a mostly-immobile platform is not particularly enticing. Smart Missiles are by far the most common of the three weapon systems, as they get around a problem Tau often have (units hiding behind terrain) and also have a longer range than the other two by quite a bit while not being too much more expensive.
A Hammerhead can also take up to two Seeker Missiles (72″ S8 AP-2 DmgD6 one use only) at +5pts each, which are a handy little addition to the chassis. As the Hammerhead has the best ballistic skill available to any Seeker platform in the codex, they are usually where you will start loading up on such weapons if you decide to do so.
The Hammerhead is currently in a pretty bad place, but that actually has very little to do with the tank itself and mostly to do with the current meta- if and when things shift, we could see it start showing up again in numbers, because everything it does is actually pretty good for Tau overall. The big issue is essentially the existence of the Castellan; so long as that is around, it’s simply not plausible to run a vehicle like this when the Knight can easily kill two of them per turn and they can’t really have any hope of hurting it.
However, none of that makes the Hammerhead a bad unit or indicates unfair costing. The Hammerhead is one of the most accurate platforms that Tau have with its natural BS3+, and this is further enhanced by the ability to bring Longstrike along to the party to bring them to hitting on 2s. Although it doesn’t get the “fire twice at half speed” ability that many other tanks do, with its extreme accuracy it almost doesn’t need it- in fact, its numbers compare very favorably to other tanks even as is. This does largely presume that you’ll be running Tau Sept in order to take Longstrike, but honestly most Tau armies are going that direction anyways because the Tau Sept bonus is so good already that you’re going to be using it in nearly every army.
The Hammerhead has a big advantage over a lot of other Tau units in that it actually has very long-ranged main weaponry… which, oddly, is not the case for many other units like the Riptide or Broadside. With even the Ion Cannon’s “shorter” range of 60″, you should still be able to reach out to essentially anywhere on the table to hit targets, provided you have line of sight. As many other Tau units are limited to 30″ or 36″ range, this can provide a good projection of threat that can force an opponent to close with the rest of the Tau army or risk being picked apart at range with little recourse.
We should also take a moment here to talk about the main weapons of the Hammerhead. Although I touched on it earlier in the article, as it currently stands the Ion Cannon is essentially always the superior choice over the Railgun; it has better numbers against virtually every possible target statline and its fixed damage makes it much more reliable to boot. Although the Railgun does have some interesting features on it, it simply isn’t worth it overall, and especially not since there is a proliferation of units with invulnerable saves in the game right now which make its high AP value a lot less worthwhile. Even ignoring that, though, the multiple shots on the Ion Cannon are simply too good of a deal to pass up in most cases. While the Ion is more expensive by a trivial amount, in the long run that means very little when you are deciding what units to use, as even if you need to drop those points there are better places to do it (such as the secondary weapons.)
It’s also worth remembering that the Hammerhead is more than just its main gun- it comes with a pair of secondary weapons as well, and non-trivial ones at that. Thanks to S5 they are able to wound even Imperial Knights on 5+s at worst, which means in a pinch they can be used to supplement the firepower of your main armament in order to try and chip those last few wounds off of something big. But much more commonly you will want to split them off to an infantry target in range, as that’s where their main strength lies. Smart Missiles ignore both line of sight and cover, making them perfect for taking out those annoying units that are hiding on an objective to try and score it, most especially weak ones like Cultists or Guardsmen- though even Space Marines have something to fear from it, as it will put them back on rolling 3+s to stay alive and with a significant number of shots to boot. The Hammerhead at its most basic level is a hybrid tank, designed to take out both tanks and infantry, so it functions best when it is used in this role; when at all possible, try to find the right targets for each of its guns. Although not all lists will have the perfect targets for it, many of them will to at least some degree, and the flexibility of its weapon profiles means that even in a worst case scenario you are getting at least some value out of both the primary and secondary armament.
The Hammerhead’s high accuracy with its weapons is not just a nice feature, it’s actually a reason to take it in and of itself. Tau generally struggle a lot against armies with hit modifers such as Eldar, and especially those that stack hit modifiers. Hammerheads, with their high native ballistic skill, suffers those modifiers much less harshly than other units; it doesn’t like taking a -2 hit penalty, but it at least can still potentially push some damage though, especially with Longstrike and/or Markerlights buffing them. Since simply conceding games to Eldar or similar armies is really not an option, Hammerheads (along with a few other, similar units) are one of the better ways to compensate for such matchups, provided the rest of the army fits with them of course.
Don’t underestimate the Hammerhead’s ability to screen for other units, either; being a fairly large chassis with good speed and the Fly keyword, a Hammerhead can easily be used to blunt a charge from the enemy (albeit at a cost) and use supporting fire to weaken them on the way in, then fall back and finish it off on your own turn. Since it can’t be trapped, unlike many other units, it is much more resistant to fancy charge shenanigans that high-level players tend to use, and a wall of two or three of them can completely block off the main body of your army while still allowing your other units to shoot underneath them (thanks to the flying stand.)
Of course, it’s not without its weaknesses, too; lacking the For the Greater Good rule like most infantry and battlesuits have, the Hammerhead does a poor job of supporting its friends when they get charged, and being relatively fragile overall it can easily go down to massed attacks or powerful hits
Aside from their inability to support other units on overwatch, Hammerheads have one major weakness: fragility. Although they aren’t exceptionally easy to down, they have no special protections whatsoever and thus any army with good anti-tank firepower should be able to down them fairly easily. Lascannons, Bright Lances, and other, similar weapons will make short work of a Hammerhead once they get going- especially if you are stacking up rerolls or modifiers. As a prototypical example of the big tank chassis, Hammerheads are exactly in the target range for such weapons and are their most preferred prey, which is not a great place to be on a unit that has no defensive abilities whatsoever. And with most Tau armies having a very high drop count due to running brigades, triple battalions, and similar things, it is very possible that you can wipe all of the Hammerheads off the table before the Tau player even gets a turn.
(Shooting and killing Longstrike before he does anything is also very good practice, since it will significantly degrade their accuracy, but that much should be obvious to any player I would think.)
The Hammerhead hasn’t gotten a ton of attention in Tau lists so far due to the meta tilting against it in the past six months or so, but I definitely wouldn’t count it out yet- we could very well see a resurgence of them at any point if the Castellan goes away and makes room for other vehicles to slide back into the environment. Chapter Approved is poised to change a lot of things, so I would definitely keep your eye out for some significant shifts to happen.
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