“Sky Raper”: Drones are tools of the patriarchy

Journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald posted a disturbing report at their new site The Intercept about the NSA’s secret role in the U.S. assassination program. It’s a fascinating read, and I recommend you read it in its entirety, but I wanted to explore a very specific passage in the report—an interview with a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA.

The former drone operator explains that remotely piloted Reaper and Predator vehicles are often given cute little nicknames. For example, those used in Afghanistan were called “Lightning” and “Sky Raider.”


But then the source candidly reveals there’s a subset of nicknames. The “Sky Raider” was also referred to as “Sky Raper” because “it killed a lot of people.”

Badas—Wait, whaaaat.

When operators were assigned to “Sky Raper,” he adds, it meant that “somebody was going to die. It was always set to the most high-priority missions.”

So here we have a bunch of joystick jockeys not only responsible for killing nameless, faceless brown people thousands of miles away, but as if that wasn’t enough of a violation, they decided to sprinkle a dash of rape culture onto their acts of horrific violence.

Sky Raper. The name reminds me of how my hipster journalist friends refer to drones as “sky death robots,” or similarly creepy euphemisms — names that would never actually be used officially by military brass because they’re too close to the truth. That’s why the military comes up with polite, sterile terms like collateral damage and kinetic military action in order to insert a wedge between civilians and the terrible consequences of war.

But here is the truth: Sky Raper.

The comment is extremely revealing because it lays bare the true nature of patriarchy, and the roles of the military and rape culture within patriarchy. These three mechanisms  of oppression work in tandem, each reliant on the other. The military cannot exist without rape culture and patriarchy, just as rape culture relies on the military and patriarchy to export violence all across the globe, and the patriarchy requires the military and rape culture to bolster its very existence.

The military figuratively and actually rapes on a regular basis, whether we’re talking about soldiers invading autonomous regions in order to aid the U.S. government’s plundering of natural resources, or soldiers literally raping indigenous peoples. Then there’s the epidemic of rape within the military, a crime that grew so unmanageable that President Obama signed a 2013 bill that would ostensibly crack down on sexual assaults in the military.

The act of rape is about power and violence—two favorite hobbies of the military, and the patriarchy that relies on the military to invade and conquer in order to acquire even more power in order to fuel future acts of violence.

Sky Raper. It’s sort of beautifully succinct in a really fucked up way.


  1. NateTX

    See this dem now
    Karim Khan: “You asked me a question about terrorism. Can I ask you one? What is the definition of terrorism or terrorist?”
    Madiha Tahir: “I don’t know. What do you think it is?”
    Karim Khan: “I think there is no bigger terrorist than Obama or Bush, those who have weaponry like drones, who drop bombs on us while we are in our homes. There are no greater terrorists than them.”

    Anti-Drone Activist Missing in Pakistan http://bit.ly/1ntvtn0 @democracynow

  2. Bruce

    I’d truly appreciate characterization of the ‘matriarchal’ co-dependent enablers of this “patriarchal” FucKerry (e.g., Albright, Billary, Condi, Susi, DiFi, and other ‘domestic’ distaff terrorists in Congress).

  3. Allison Kilkenny

    Women can serve patriarchy too.

  4. Isaac

    Thanks for taking a stab at the bloated patriarchal rape infested military of ours! I don’t know why so many journalists fail to question the military’s so called “honor” when it comes to sexual assault. How can we treat an organization that openly practices sexism, facilitates rape culture and knowingly murders innocent civilians with respect? It is called Sky Raper! How can you deny that rape culture exists anymore? They nickname their fucking death machines Sky Raper!

  5. Thom Friend

    Very scary when “rape” becomes synonymous with “defeat” or “conquer.” You hear similar language used with certain people discussing sports or videogames; “I/we raped him/them.” I guess now I’m just mentioning all of the realms associated with masculinity… Hm…

    I’m glad you picked up and expanded on what was written on The Intercept. I (being a man) must have been too distracted by all my shiny privilege baubles to pay mind to the rape comment. But that’s exactly why we always need to give voice to the people impacted/oppressed/marginalized the most. 

    There are probably army generals in a board meeting right now trying to come up with a new nickname for that armored truck they’ve been calling the Street Harasser.

  6. Matt

    I wonder if rape culture has grown in out society in some ways recently. Obviously the term “raider” sounds like “raper,” and the phrase “That dude just got raped” has rose in prominence to describe somebody who gets destroyed quickly in online gaming and internet circles. A lot of these young people are now flying drones in the military.

    People have come up with unofficial nicknames for military hardware for a long time. In world war II the p-38 lighting was nicknamed the “fork tailed devil” because of its unique tail configuration. However, its hard to imagine any soldier in the 40s calling any tank or airplane a “raper.”

    It was just not a term people used to describe n00bs getting owned hard in that era. Yet, I am not entirely convinced the patriarchy or rape culture was less in the 1940s. Maybe in some ways it was though, because internet culture has really lead to using the term “rape” a lot more frequently. Almost normalizing it to describe other things.

  7. Lia

    Thanks for writing this, Allison. It’s always frustrating when people (especially when they’re self-proclaimed progressives) throw women or other marginalized communities under the bus for the sake of calling out other social bullshit. It’s so good to see such well-articulated commentary in response.

  8. Courtney

    Great article (as always) and of course I will be sharing. The link between the military complex and patriarchy is undeniable. The only thought I can’t stop shaking is that I wonder if ‘Sky Raper’ was meant to be ‘Sky Reaper.’ Sky Reaper would make a lot more sense given the reason for the title “…somebody was going to die.” I just wonder if an ‘e’ got lost in pronunciation somewhere. Regardless, the rest of the article is spot on and ‘Reaper’ would be horrifying as well. Sorry, I’m probably wrong and hope to be corrected by anyone, it just seems plausible and would take away the impact of the article to people new to the topics given it’s prevalence if the symbol were false.

    Ignoring everything I just said, I think the thing that shocked me most was that whoever named it a ‘Sky Raper’ was either perversely or sadly self aware or hideously proud. Patriarchy indeed.