Weapon names III: The F.E.M.A.L.E. Drone

July 10, 2014

MQ-1_PredatorTurns out I’m not the only person fascinated by weapon names. The War is Boring blog recently pointed out how the US military often uses Native American names for its weaponry – Tomahawks, Apaches and the like. Glad to be not alone.

By Wilbert van der Zeijden

So, after looking at US drones and death and at the logic of bluffing with bombs I now share a couple of thoughts on dinosaurs and male bees. MALE bees even. An apt subject given the recent discussions on gender and weapons.

A couple of years ago, discussing US nuclear weapons in Europe, a diplomat surprised me with a derisive statement,. “F-16s and Tornado aircraft and the B61 nuclear bombs they carry” he said “are like pterodactyls dropping rocks. NATO’s plan is to replace the pterodactyls and modernise the rocks. This will cost billions and in the end we will still be stuck with pterodactyls dropping rocks.”

China clearly wasn’t listening in on that conversation or they would have thought again about the name for their flagship drone… the Pterodactyl. It’s a magnificent beast, this Pterodactyl. It weighs in at a pretty hefty 1100 kilo and has a 14 metre wing span. It also carries 100 kilo of armament and can destroy things and people as far as 4000 km away.

All this would have been extra impressive if China had developed this dino from scratch but instead the design was ‘inspired’ by the US drone, the Reaper (Mr. Death!). So the Chinese reverse engineered their flagship drone and, like happened with mobile phones, the Chinese will probably end up being better at building them for a reasonable price.

It begs the question what is the image the militaries try to get across with dinosaur names. Heavy? Bloodthirsty? Justified and ancient? Bloodthirstiness is certainly implied in other dinosaur weapons. Meet the .577 T-Rex round – the No. 1 Most Stupidly Overpowered Hunting Weapon according to Cracked.comOr the F-22 Raptor, the most deadly fighter jet according to Flying Magazine.

China’s drone program otherwise seems to largely follow the ‘cool flying animal’ logic found in most drone producing countries. China has developed sunbirds; divine eagles; a whole range of not divine eagles; a swan goose and sky/owlet/sparrow-hawks. And there’s bees of course. Blue Bees, Smart Bees, Sting Bees, bees everywhere.

This brings us back to the Pterodactyl drone. Drones are male bees of course, but the military – always concerned about the feminisation of our warfare – felt it needed to emphasise the masculinity of this particular class of combat drones by calling them… MALE. With capitals or you might miss the point. Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAVs. M.A.L.E.!

However, from my Eurocentric point of reference, China is in the Far East, so one could argue that the Pterodactyl is a F.E.M.A.L.E. drone of course.


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