In the WH40k universe the imperium of man has become technophobic, in the sense that anything Xenos (alien, i.e. non-human) is shunned and banned.

The Tau have no such distaste, and have adapted and integrated other races and their technology into their empire. I was wondering if it is documented however that they've been able to reverse engineer advanced technology, such as Necron or Eldar technology.

I'm asking as when I searched on this issue I found a case of someone from the imperium attempting this and being exploded in the face.

  • 2
    Tau has managed to reverse engineer Warp travel from the Empire, but they forgot about the Gellar field generators - the effects weren't pretty.
    – Yasskier
    Nov 11, 2021 at 21:08

3 Answers 3


Technically? Yes. However, it's worth noting that besides the Necrons, there is no higher tech that the Tau could use. They have no psychic presence to speak of, so they'd be totally unable to use Eldar or Ork technology. (Inasmuch as Orks have "technology"). Imperial, Chaos, and Dark Eldar technology is inferior to Tau.

They could maybe learn things from the Necrons, but since most of Necron technology is made of "living metal", nano-tech that is actively hostile to life, it's unlikely that they'd get the opportunity.

  • You probably meant something else in "[Tau]'d be totally unable to use Tau or Ork technology" :) Also, what about Tyranid tech? (kidding!)
    – Andres F.
    Aug 23, 2012 at 2:26
  • Makes me wonder... if Tau tech is superior to all other non-psi, inorganic tech in the 40K universe, would they be able to win every battle of non-psi, non-demonic forces? Assuming equal numbers on both sides? Say, a battle of tanks or spaceships without demonic stuff.
    – Andres F.
    Aug 23, 2012 at 2:28
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    No, because tactics, skill, morale, terrain, position on the field, strategy as well as technology available for the battle all determine how well, a particular battle may go between two forces. Superior technology is a factor, but it is not the ONLY factor. Aug 23, 2012 at 3:34
  • @AndresF. I of course meant (and corrected it to) Eldar and Ork tech, on account of them being massively psychic and having most or all of their tech rely on that.
    – rsegal
    Aug 23, 2012 at 4:30
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    @Thaddeus Oh, right. Tactics. That minor detail! :P
    – Andres F.
    Aug 23, 2012 at 12:43

rsegal said " Imperial, Chaos, and Dark Eldar technology is inferior to Tau." That is completely untrue. For a lesser example, the Tau personal shields are projected by shield drones and are rather ineffective compared to their Imperial counterpart. Said counterpart can be made as small as a cuff button. For the Dark Eldar, well, I sure don't see any Tau running around with Darklight Blasters, do you? People often make this mistake about the Tau. They think that because the Tau look more advanced than everyone else, that they are more advanced. They are anything but. Even their railguns are, fluff-wise, only about as powerful as a Leman Russ's battlecannon. No, seriously, fluff says that the Hammerhead and the Leman Russ are equals. The fact that they are still equals shows that the Tau cannot reverse-engineer it. Otherwise they would have applied whatever makes it so good to their own tech and thus their Hammerhead would become superior to the Leman Russ. It's not, so they can't. If it were that easy then the Imperium would have been destroyed long ago by the tens of thousands of aliens species it is at war with at all times.

By the way, the Leman Russ is just a re-purposed tractor and it is the equal of the Tau's most powerful tank. That, if nothing else, should drive home how much more advanced the Imperium is.

Ork tech can't really be understood by anyone. Even the Ork who made it. A bit of lore has an Ork shoota cut open and the examiners are shocked to find it is hollow. It only looks like a gun, but the Ork thinks it's a gun, so it works like one. Chaos tech likewise can't be reverse-engineered because it mostly runs on lulphysics and daemons. Necron tech is simply too advanced for anyone but the highest ranking Magi of the Mechanicus to understand. The Eldar use tech given to them from the Old Ones, so they couldn't reverse-engineer a bow-and-arrow. Speaking of which, he Tau would fail at reverse-engineering Craftworld Eldar tech because what isn't run by a psychic presence is too advanced for them to even begin to comprehend.

This is all assuming the piece of tech doesn't happen to be really, really old. Old enough to have a machine spirit that literally twists reality to shoot you in the face with a laser while your holding it in the opposite direction. No, seriously.

To be fair, though, what constitutes "Imperial technology" ranges anywhere from hitting two rocks together and newly discovering fire to flinging black-holes through time and personal teleporters that can be conveniently hidden on your person.

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    It's well accepted that the Imperials have examples of technology that are the equal even of Eldar and possibly Necron tech, but in terms of what's generally available, Tau have better tech. The LR is good, but its armor advantage is that it's a small mountain of armor instead of a fast, armored hovercraft, and its gun is shorter range. Much less tactically viable. And yeah, nobody else can use Ork-nology, because it relies on their latent psychic powers. Eldar tech is all knowingly based in their psychic powers, and the Tau wouldn't be able to activate it, just like with the Orks.
    – rsegal
    Oct 4, 2013 at 18:52
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    Depends on what you mean by "generally available". Most of the super-tech (uber-tech being horded by technophiles) is available in the Imperium to whoever has the money for it. So it is "generally available" just freakishly expensive. Given that the most advanced stuff is only made by the Mechanicus, I wonder how much of what they sell is genuinely an "ancient artifact" and how much of it is made-to-order with a side of bull to milk more coin... Since they always have an "artifact" laying around for whoever has enough thrones to pay for it.
    – Axcel
    Nov 20, 2013 at 18:38

I can't at all agree with rsegal that T'au technology is superior to any other except Necrons. Let us take the example of the Dark Eldars Glass Plague:

The celebrated Commorrite Jalaxlar revealed his latest work, lifelike crystallized sculptures of Dark Eldar. The masterful pieces of work earn Jalaxlar acclaim across the art galleries of the city, for he has captured the expression of true shock and terror in his sculptures. However after a rival house attacked Jalaxlar's galleries that same evening, his laboritires are smashed apart and his secret revealed. The sculptor had isolated a viral helix that quickly turns living material into crystalline glass.

From the Lexicanum article on Glass Plague

So, they have a level of technology able to turn living beings into crystal. And that's the work of a single Dark Eldar. As a society, they've reached a level of technology able to move entire suns to where they want:

The city itself is powered by the Illmaea or "stolen suns". For their energy source, the Dark Eldar copied a technique of the old Eldar Empire. Dark Eldar steal suns from the Materium, bring them into their Webway realm, and use their energies to supply the Dark City.

From the Lexicanum article on Commoragh

They still have that knowledge as is shown in Asdrubael Vect handing a box with a black hole in it. So, to the question if they are able to reverse engineer any technology, lets consider the definition of reverse engineering:

Reverse engineering (also known as backwards engineering or back engineering) is a process or method through the application of which one attempts to understand through deductive reasoning how a device, process, system, or piece of software accomplishes a task with very little (if any) insight into exactly how it does so.

From Wikipedia article on Reverse Engineering

So, with that definition, I'd say "not at all" simply for the reason that they don't understand the physics required for this to work. It's the same as asking if todays scientist were able to reverse engineer technology from Star Trek. We wouldn't even even know where to start, we don't yet have the knowledge to understand how they generate that kind of energy, bend space and so on (yes, we might understand the basics but not how to run it stable and so on). Some parts of the technology might be able to be understood, other might speed up our understanding as we can test theories with a working example and other parts are so far beyond our understanding that we're more likely to blow it (and us) up than to understand it in any way.

Also, latest in 745.M41, they got a warp drive as detailed in this question. To the extend of my knowledge, they haven't a working warp drive but only Gravitic Drive, which they were able to reverse engineer. And for the explanation on psykers, humans were able to create machines that can calculate warp jumps without the need of psykers.

In conclusion: they might be able to reverse engineer some parts of the technology that is slightly ahead of them but certainly not technology so far ahead of them that they wouldn't even understand the principle it works on.

  • 1
    I thought, based on your quite that reverse engineering specifically didn't require understanding how the principles worked? This bit - "with very little (if any) insight into exactly how it does so." Implies the opposite or your conclusion (unless I've misunderstood).
    – AncientSwordRage
    Nov 10, 2021 at 21:11
  • @AncientSwordRage You still need to understand the basic physics behind it and be it only to be able to produce the material for it. Lets say we get a force shield from an alien civilization. If there's even one material we're not able to produce, we'd need to understand what it does exactly and how it works in order to be able to reproduce the whole thing. If we get a drone able to accelerate at like 500g, we'd need to be able to reproduce the material the drone is made of for it not to be crushed during acceleration etc.
    – Shade
    Nov 11, 2021 at 7:58
  • @AncientSwordRage On earth, we all have about the same science knowledge and understanding, so we can produce the same material as an other country or determine what's required for it to work and get another material with similar properties. That's not the case with wastly superior technology.
    – Shade
    Nov 11, 2021 at 8:01

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