Well sports fans, this is a big day for a lot of you. By the time you are reading this, the all-new Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup will be headed to a dealer near you. How can people be anticipating a product that isn’t even known about yet? Because of Springfield Armory’s unique relationship with HS Produkt, and what we have all known that should mean. Eventually. Because while the Hellion is absolutely new, it has deep roots in the HS Produkt VHS. Which is not an obsolete form of media in this context.
VHS stands for Višenamjenska Hrvatska Strojnica, which I wouldn’t attempt to butcher on film. It roughly translates as Croatian Automatic Weapon, so we will stick with VHS and Hellion. The VHS has a huge fanboy following for a variety of reasons, not least of which it has never been made in large numbers. It has served in the Croatian Army since 2009, though budget constraints have kept the long-term requirement for 50,000 rifles from being fulfilled. It has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Croatian contingent. 10,000 more were sold to Iraq around 2015, which has added to the popularity. Almost like a Sasquatch sighting, people collect pictures of the VHS. Seriously, run Iraq+VHS through a search engine. The results yield a dozen blogs with pictures of the VHS in action with the Iraqi SOF, Kurdish Forces, and Syrian fighters. For a gun that might be below 100,000 built to date, it has had a disproportionate impact on the battlefield.
For that matter, you could say the VHS was born in war. Development began in 1992, during the Croatian War of Independence. ( Not for nothing, this is also when HS Produkt was born. The Croatian War was an incredibly hard-fought victory, which Americans tend to know very little about. HS Produkt was founded so that Croatia would never be at the mercy of imported arms again.) The VHS started as a bullpup AK variant, which ultimately had serious flaws. Further prototypes were presented in 1996, 1999, and 2004.
Just because it was made by the home team didn’t mean HS Produkt would have an easy path to entering military service. Being fresh off a War for Independence will have that effect on people. The VHS had to survive an entire series of torture tests, and prove it could match or best the H&K G36. It did, with one of those tests allegedly being 50,000 rounds without a major parts breakage.
This brings us to our Hellion. People have been screaming at Springfield Armory for years to get a civilian legal version of the VHS into the United States. Which is not as easy as it sounds. Import rules are less than ideal on weapons. But finally, that day is here. With some Springfield unique touches to a joint product for the US market.
The Hellion features a 16-inch barrel, which we would expect for a bullpup. Kinda the entire point is to have a full-length barrel in a smaller overall package. The bullpup design shows the influence of a FAMAS, an IWI Tavor, and a G36. One nice point about our Hellion is that it accepts standard AR-15 magazines. The Croatian VHS uses G36 magazines since their Army has more of those on hand.
The Hellion is truly ambi, with ejection port covers on both the left and right sides. The safety is very different from something like an AR-15, but very well designed. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it works flawlessly. The Hellion also takes standard AR-15 grips, so you can add your favorite if you like.
The carry handle doubles as a top rail, which offers a huge amount of real estate for optics and accessories. Our test model was wearing a Night Force 1×8, and had no problem positioning it for optimal eye relief. It being the year of our Lord 2022, the Hellion features Mlok slots at the 3,6, and 9 of the handguard.
Besides the operating system, 3 features really stand out on the design side. First, the trigger. While there is some take up, the Hellion has by far the best trigger I have ever seen in a bullpup. The gauge also says it breaks at 7 pounds, which I have a hard time believing. I put new batteries in to be sure. That sounds bad on paper but does not translate as such in real use. I am not going to tell you I prefer it to say, an AR Gold in a traditional rifle, but it feels really nice. I would easily call it better than a mil-spec M-4, and a very clear winner among bullpups.
Second, the magazine release and mag well are fantastic. The magazine release is centerline behind the mag well, which means it is nearly impossible to accidentally hit. It is also very wide, so depressing it with a thumb when you need to is very easy. The mag well itself is positioned such that this is the first bullpup I have shot you can reload without moving the stock out of your shoulder. It is amazing. I usually count slow to reload as a negative to choosing a bullpup in general. With a bit of practice, it isn’t impossible to say you could reload the Hellion FASTER than an M-4.
Third, the stock. Chassis. Whatever you call it on a bullpup. The Hellion has a very well-designed adjustable pull-out stock, that gives you about 4 inches of adjustment. Like a smaller version of a 6 position AR stock. That little bit of adjustment, on this gun, makes all the difference. Between that and the flip-up cheekpiece, the system is incredibly comfortable.
Overall, Springfield Armory has hit one out of the park here. In a two-year period that has seen very little overall development, this one is going to be hot. I hope they can bring them in fast enough.
Caliber: 5.56×45 NATO ( .223 REM)
Operating system: 2 positions Adjustable, Short Stroke Piston
Barrel: 16 inch, Melonite, 1:7
Weight: 8 pounds