Tau Codex Review: Flyers: Barracuda AX-5-2

You lying so low in the weeds
Bet you gonna ambush me
You’d have me down, down, down to my knees
Wouldn’t you, Barracuda?

Overview

The Barracuda is the basic air superiority fighter of the Tau Empire- not, as many people assume, the Razor Shark. Barracuda variants have served in a variety of other roles, from ground attack to fleet support, but their primary job is to take control of the airspace above a battlefield to allow Tau ground units (including the various hover tanks) to operate safely. In this role, they usually work in concert with friendly ground units (e.g. a Sky Ray) as well as other air assets, as most Tau battle plans call for synergetic effort on multiple fronts. Guided by the expertise of the Air Caste pilots, who are naturally adapted to life thousands of meters above the ground, the Barracuda almost inevitably triumphs over its adversaries in the Imperium, whose clunky and unstreamlined vehicles cannot compare to its maneuverability or weapons load. The AX-5-2 variant is new, having been rolled out around the end of the Third Sphere Expansion, and brings a variety of technological leaps forward together in order to create a superior fighting vehicle for the Empire.

The Barracuda’s statline is actually pretty beefy for a flyer, being significantly tougher than the other options Tau have and much more akin to the various Imperial ones in that respect. Starting out with toughness seven and fourteen wounds is a very good place to be, and with a 3+ save it will be able to shrug a fair amount of firepower; beyond that, it comes with ballistic skill 3+ (which does, of course, degrade) for a solid firepower potential and the usual absurdly long movement distances for a flying unit. However, with a base price in the 260pt range it is a bit of a pricey beast and doesn’t always hold up well to that cost.

Special Rules and Wargear

As a flyer, the Barracuda comes with a plethora of special rules that are common to most units of its type- enemies subtract one from hit rolls against it, it must pivot and then move in a straight line, it can’t charge and can only be charged by Fly units, etc. All of these are completely standard versions of the rules, and there’s no real surprises there at all. The only unique rule it has to itself is the 5+ invulnerable save it gets against attacks- and notably all attacks, not just shooting ones.

The vehicle’s armament is the more interesting part of it. The Barracuda comes with a variety of weapons, with one main gun, two secondary ones, and then some fixed weapon mounts. The main gun comes standard as a Swiftstrike Burst Cannon, which is the same stats as the pre-codex Heavy Burst Cannon (36″ S6 AP-1 Dmg1 Heavy 8). This can be traded for an Ion Cannon (60″ S7 AP-2 Dmg2 Heavy 3, can overcharge for S8 Dmg3 Heavy d6 but risk mortal wounds) at a 20pt discount, which is actually a pretty fair weapon all things considered, although unlike on the Hammerhead its overcharge mode is pretty difficult to use. If you are a complete idiot, you can also opt into the Swiftstrike Railgun for a comically-bad 46pt upgrade cost, which gets you a 36″ Heavy 2 gun with S8 AP-4 DmgD6 and mortal wounds on 6s. The only time I would ever do this is if you aren’t paying points for it, i.e. in a Power Level game.

The secondary armament doesn’t have as many options, but they are much more fairly priced; the basic version is a pair of Long-Barreled Burst Cannons (36″ S5 AP0 Assault 4), which are perfectly acceptable weapons (if slightly overcosted due to not getting an update from the codex.) However, with a good reach and a reasonable profile, you won’t often be disappointed with them- and unlike the majority of its other guns, they move and fire at full efficiency. The alternative is a pair of Cyclic Ion Blasters (18″ S7 AP-1 Assault 3, can overcharge for S8 DmgD3 but risk mortal wounds), at +12pts for the pair. The CIB is a fantastic weapon by virtually any measure and most Tau players will be quite familiar with its strength via the Crisis suit and/or Commander, but there are a few small kinks to it when using the gun on a Barracuda- namely, range. While the Barracuda’s movement does make it easy to bring the CIB to bear, the model’s large size and vulnerability does make closing to such ranges a bit dangerous, since it gives the enemy the potential to crash it by denying you landing spots; still, for all that, the CIB is a great alternative to have and is well worth considering for the unit.

Finally, the Barracuda comes with a pair of Missile Pods (36″ S7 AP-1 DmgD3 Assault 2), always a favorite of Tau players, and the option for up to four Seeker Missiles (72″ S8 AP-2 DmgD6) on its belly. Given the way Tau tend to play I think the Seekers are something of a no-brainer choice, but they can be stripped off without too much of a loss if you are desperate for points.

Uses

So, the Barracuda is far from a bad unit; its durability is on par for what you’d expect from something of its size (a bit of a rarity for Tau) and it packs a lot of guns with solid statlines, even coming with the improved ballistic skill value common to Tau vehicles. However, it does have a lot of issues that have prevented it from making any real appearances on the tournament scene, even the relative scarcity of the model aside, and I think in the balance it’s hard to say that it is a good unit overall.

The first, and most obvious, one is that while its durability is acceptable, it is definitely not great. It has the same stats as a Stormraven (but gets a 5++ to boot), and that simply isn’t enough these days; there are tons and tons of high-firepower units out there that love to chew up vehicles and the Barracuda is a prime target for such things. As Tau have very few defensive stratagems or buffs, if the enemy focuses on it then it is likely to go down pretty easily unless you have very hot dice for your invulns, and the many smashy characters out there with Fly (from Captains to Princes and beyond) will also make pretty short work of the thing. And this is all considering that it is being lined up against the various Tau battlesuits, all of whom benefit from Savior Protocols and thus have exceptionally high durability, making the Barracuda look even worse by comparison.

Beyond that, there is the issue of its main gun being Heavy while having no way to compensate for that built-in. Battlesuits can take a Target Lock (or use non-Heavy guns), but the Barracuda is stuck with that -1 penalty to its shooting rolls unless you can get a bunch of Markerlight hits on a target or pop off a Mont’ka nearby, neither of which are terribly reliable. This is especially punishing for the Ion Cannon, which really wants to be using its overcharge mode for best effect and would rather not be risking mortal wounds as a result, but the other main weapons suffer from it as well; BS4+ just isn’t good enough for a unit this expensive, and god forbid you’ve taken enough damage to push you into one of the lower tiers.

Lastly, there is the problem of obsolescence; the Tiger Shark Fighter Bomber carries almost exactly twice the armament of the Barracuda for twice the cost, but starts with BS2+, effectively giving it a 33% boost in firepower right out of the gates. The Tiger Shark has issues of its own these days, but when such a similar platform is available that has such a direct upgrade, it tends to overshadow any real consideration of the Barracuda pretty quickly.

With that said, though, a properly-equipped Barracuda can be fairly dangerous to a lot of kinds of targets. While it does really want a full suite of Markerlight hits on a target to do its proper work, this is hardly unmanagable for most Tau lists in the early turns of the game. Kitted with Ion Cannon and Cyclic Ion Blasters, all firing on overcharge mode, you’ll be hitting on 2s, rerolling 1s, and be immune to the mortal wounds suffered from the guns, giving you around fourteen multidamage hits with some amount of AP on them- and the fixed three damage on the main weapon is particularly nice there. Add on the four Seeker Missiles and you should be able to down most targets in a single pass, provided you’re willing to maneuver into range, and even at longer distances you still are retaining most of that firepower.

Countering

The Barracuda fits roughly in the mode of most Tau vehicles- hard-hitting and more accurate than their other options, but fairly fragile all things considered. Most lists should have the firepower to focus on them somewhere in the early turns of the game and drop them without too much difficulty, even with the innate -1 and 5++, but lists with weaker firepower may find it a struggle to do so. As mentioned earlier, flying melee units can help out here, though the Barracuda has enough firepower that charging into it can sometimes be a bit risky- and it always has the option of overwatching on 5s thanks to Tau stratagems, so don’t get caught off guard.

Beyond that, if you have a horde-based army (or are just very canny), you probably can control its movement to a significant degree with good positioning; the limited turn arc and forced movement can actually make keeping the Barracuda relevant to a battle somewhat difficult, especially for its shorter-range weapons, and it’s very likely that by the mid-to-late turns of the game the Barracuda will have to spend at least a turn or two not able to participate in the battle the way it wants to, and if you’re really lucky/clever you may even be able to force it to crash.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, the Barracuda really isn’t that bad of a unit- a tad overpriced, perhaps, but I think being a bit more cautious with Forge World units is probably the better policy overall, given some of their past mistakes. It would be nice to see its price (or datasheet) adjusted in the future, but if that never happens it won’t be a complete tragedy, as it’s hardly an iconic Tau unit or anything.

As always, remember that you can order your wargaming supplies from the Frontline Gaming store at great discounts every day, whether you’re looking to expand an existing army or start a new one.

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AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

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