OK, so it is not really new and, in fact, it appears to be completely the same unit as it was in the previous codex. That said, I think the Sky Ray has a whole new lease on life in the upcoming Tau codex, based on the rumors we have seen so far.
The one thing that has changed, and which has a MAJOR impact, is that Sky Rays can be taken in squadrons of 1-3 vehicles and, as long as they have 3 vehicles in the squadron, then their new “Fire Team” rule, which grant them +1BS.
So, what does this mean for Tau Commanders who choose to take a squadron of 3 Sky Rays? Well, since each Sky Ray comes with six Seeker Missiles, two Networked Marker Lights, and a Velocity Tracker “stock,” this means that you can use up a single Heavy Support slot and get the following:
-18 Seeker Missiles
-6 Networked Marker Lights
Due to the Velocity Tracker, every turn you can choose whether to give the Sky Rays “Skyfire” or not. As long as they have three tanks, they all shoot at BS5… this is very important and means that Sky Ray squadrons can absolutely murder enemy flyers and FMCs:
-Against an AV12 flyer (like a Stormraven or a Stormwolf, for example), the Sky Ray squadron can shoot 18 Seeker Missiles out to 72″ with BS5, provided they all did not move. That is an average of 15 hits and 7-8 Glances (or 3-4 Glances, if the Flyer chooses to Jink), meaning you are almost certain to kill the 200+ point flyer (and its cargo) in a single volley.
-Against a FMC (say a Tyranid Hive Tyrant), the Sky Ray squadron shoots 18 Seeker Missiles, gets 15 hits, and gets 12-13 AP3 wounds… even if the Hive Tyrant Jinks, that still average 6-7 wounds, which kills it outright (great way to Slay the Warlord and get First Blood all in one move!)
The same “alpha strike” principle can be used against dangerous ground targets. Take an Eldar Wraithknight for example. The Sky Ray squadrons launches 18 Seeker Missiles, gets about 15 hits, 7-8 wounds, and about 5 Unsaved Wounds after the Wraithknight takes if FNP rolls… that leaves the Wraithknight with a single wound left, on average, which can be easily taken out by the rest of your army… again, enemy Wraithknight dead turn 1, before it can even get into action (also, quite demoralizing psychologically for them to lose their Lord of War Gargantuan creature just as the game begins).
So, Seeker Missiles are One Use Only, so what happens after you launch this glorious Alpha Strike to decimate a selected enemy unit? Well, remember, the squadron still has 6 Networked Marker Lights, all supported by BS5 and the ability to use Skyfire each turn, if required. In other words, the Sky Ray squadron becomes an AV13 BS5 Pathfinder Team for you!
This ability to act as a durable, hyper accurate source of Marker Lights can work in a number of ways:
1) Guaranteed Marker Lights Hits — Since they are shooting 6 MLs at BS5, you should get an average of 5 ML tokens on anything they point themselves at. That means you can pretty much guarantee Ignore Cover and +3BS against that selected target for the turn, which is an AMAZING ability to have in you hip pocket. Alternately, you can make 4 destroyer Missiles from a Stormsurge fire at BS4 and upgrade them to S: D AP1, which can be an equally devastating “killing blow” strike.
2) Cascading Marker Lights – Another way to use the Sky Ray BS5 Marker Lights is to boost the rest of the MLs in your army, making them exponentially more effective. For example, say you move your Sky Ray squadron before shooting (so they can only shoot 3 MLs at full BS) and you get 3 ML hits from the Sky Rays… you can use that to buff up a nearby 10 man Pathfinder squad to BS6, in turn allowing it to go from an average of 5 ML hits to around 10 ML hits… this in turn can “cascade” to give multiple units in the rest of your army “Ignore Cover” when shooting at that selected target, etc. etc.
3) Anti-Air Support — Even if you used up your Seeker Missiles early on to take out an enemy ground target, the Sky Rays can still provide you a form of air defense in later turns by using their BS5 MLs and Velocity Trackers against enemy flyers and FMCs… if you get an average of 5 ML hits against an enemy flyer, then you can, for example, buff a nearby Broadside Team with HYMPs to BS4 and Ignore Cover, meaning they can put out 12 BS6 Twin-Linked Ignore Cover S7 AP4 shots against that flyer that turn… doing the math against an AV12 flyer, that translates to 11-12 hits and 3-4 HPs stripped, with NO chance for Jinking/cover saves (Eldar Crimson Hunters will HATE this!) and almost a guarantee for shooting the flyer down.
This first look at Sky Rays for the new codex doesn’t even touch on employing them as part of their new Formation (the Armoured Interdiction Cadre, granting RRs to hit for shooting within 6″ of a designated spot on the battlefield) or as part of the Hunter Contingent (combining shooting with other Hunter Contingent units so give everyone “shared” benefits of special rules and Marker Light hits), but as you can clearly see, the ability to take Sky Rays as a squadron and improve their native shooting to BS5 is quite a potent addition to the Tau Commander’s arsenal.