- European snipers gathered on a US base in Germany in August for an international competition.
- The 2022 version of the European Best Sniper Team Competition was one of the largest ever.
- It took place as Russia’s attack on Ukraine highlights the continued value of sniper operations.
Every year, the best snipers from around Europe show up in a US military base in Germany to determine who has the best sniper team on the continent.
Last year, the European Best Sniper Team Competition, hosted by the US Army, had one of its largest events ever against the backdrop of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which has shown that sniper operations are as important as ever.
The European Best Sniper Team Competition
In total, 36 teams from 18 NATO allies and partner countries put their marksmanship skills to the test during 11 days of events. Several of the teams came from special-operations units.
The organizers tailored the competition to be practical and packed it with challenges inspired by real-world battles. The event took place at Hohenfels Training Area in Germany, where the US Army’s 7th Army Training Command oversees US and international exercises.
The teams completed events that included aerial shooting, moving targets, high-angle targets, unknown-distance targets, and trench warfare. The sniper teams were also tested on targeting, stalking, small-arms marksmanship, and nighttime operations.
One event was based on the “Black Hawk Down” battle that took place in Mogadishu in 1993.
During the battle, US Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart, both snipers assigned to Delta Force, requested to be inserted to defend a crashed Black Hawk helicopter. Facing overwhelming odds, Gordon and Shughart were both killed and eventually received posthumous Medals of Honor.
The “Mogadishu” event tested the competitors aerial shooting abilities, according to Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Stegmeier, who was match director for the competition.
“Historically it’s the ‘Black Hawk Down’ scenario,” Stegmeier said in a press release. “Shooters will shoot from a static and a strafing position in the aircraft, and then they’ll have to go to a downed pilot position, return fire to the enemy, and then bring the pilot back to a safe location.”
There was also an interesting first in the competition: a joint American-Lithuanian sniper team, the product of partnership between the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Lithuanian military.
The team had one US soldier and one Lithuanian. The US team member, US Army Sgt. Dalton Weist, used his Lithuanian counterpart’s weapon. “Once you get to this level, the one thing that is universal is weapons,” Weist said in a release.
This isn’t the only international sniper competition. The US special-operations community holds a similar event every year for special-operations units from around the world.
Snipers from Greece’s Special Paratroopers Section, known as the ETA for its Greek initials, came in first. Teams from Latvia and Italy were second and third, while another Greek special-operations team from the Z’MAK amphibious special missions unit was fourth. A Slovenian team rounded out the top five.
Modeled on Britain’s SAS, the ETA specializes in strategic reconnaissance and direct-action missions. It has less than 100 operators who are divided into six teams, each of which specializes in a different insertion method, such as free-fall parachuting, combat diving, and mountain warfare.
The ETA also recently received the highest operational certification from NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters.
International training events and competitions like the European Best Sniper Team Competition are important for relationship-building among allies and partner militaries.
They also increase interoperability. In a conflict, NATO militaries would be expected to fight largely as one force. Having the same tactics, techniques, and procedures can maximize their effectiveness on the battlefield.
“These multinational competitions are about building relationships and sharing skills between the participants,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeremiah Inman, US Army Europe and Africa’s senior enlisted leader, said in a release. “All of these elite warriors will leave with more technical and tactical proficiency, as well as a heightened sense of partnership and interoperability.”
Snipers and modern warfare
The war in Ukraine has shown once more why snipers are an important asset for any military.
Most of the fighting in Ukraine has taken place in or around urban centers, ranging from small villages like Vuhledar to large cities like Kharkiv.
Indeed, snipers can even have a strategic impact in a war if they take out a senior enemy officer or gather intelligence that informs high-level decision making.
In the era of drones and precision-guided missiles, snipers continue to play an important role on the battlefield, and events like the European Best Sniper Team Competition create better shooters.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is working toward a master’s degree in strategy and cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.