The piRNA (PIWI-interacting RNA) pathway is a small RNA silencing system that acts in animal gonads and protects the genome against the deleterious influence of transposons. A major bottleneck in the field is the lack of comprehensive knowledge of the factors and molecular processes that constitute this pathway. We conducted an RNAi screen in Drosophila and identified ~50 genes that strongly impact the ovarian somatic piRNA pathway. Many identified genes fall into functional categories that indicate essential roles for mitochondrial metabolism, RNA export, the nuclear pore, transcription elongation, and chromatin regulation in the pathway. Follow-up studies on two factors demonstrate that components acting at distinct hierarchical levels of the pathway were identified. Finally, we define CG2183/Gasz as an essential primary piRNA biogenesis factor in somatic and germline cells. Based on the similarities between insect and vertebrate piRNA pathways, our results have far-reaching implications for the understanding of this conserved genome defense system.