We've been kicking the tires on the new Hellion from Springfield Armory for a minute and have some things to say on the curious bullpup.
Announced to coincide with SHOT Show in January, the 5.56 NATO carbine is an Americanized version of the HS-Produkt-- who also makes the XD series pistols-- VHS-2 rifle made for the Croatian military.



The abridged version of the origin story behind this Balkan bullpup is that the Croatians, fans of the HK36 and having also purchased a quantity of FN F2000 (aka the "Tactical Tuna") bullpups, were eager to accept the first generation VHS rifles around 2008 to replace aging Zastava M70s inherited from the old Yugoslavia.

HS-Produkt VHS rifles used in Croatian army
The VHS has been in use with the Croatian military for over a decade, and as such has seen employment on over a dozen NATO and UN deployments on three continents. (Photos: Croatian Army)

Now updated into a 2nd generation format, hence the VHS-2, some 20,000 have been bought by the Croatian Army while it has seen some other use in the Middle East and elsewhere in Europe, even coming in as a runner-up with the French Army to replace the FAMAS (instead the French went HK416). For a more detailed look at the history of the VHS series, which is outside the scope of this review, check out Gun Jesus's excellent video.

HS-Produkt VHS
HS-Produkt in Croatia makes the VHS-2 in at least four different formats for both domestic and export, with barrels ranging between 16.2-inches and 19.76-inches in length and options when it comes to top rails over carrying handles. All of these are subtly different from the Hellion, but they share the same family tree. (Photos: HS-Produkt)

With that being said, let us get into the review.

Meet the Hellion


To allow for import into the U.S. as a sporting rifle, and to accommodate a more American taste, the Springfield Armory Hellion has been tweaked and arguably improved from its VHS-2 cousins. This includes an M-LOK compatible handguard, the ability to use AR-pattern magazines rather than HK G36 types, and an AR-style pistol grip.

 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The Springfield Armory Hellion runs 28.25 to 29.78 inches long due to the five-position adjustable stock. Weight is a chunky yet balanced 8 pounds. (All photos past this point: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Springfield armory hellion
And you still get full-sized performance via the 16-inch barrel. 
 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The stock is adjustable for length of pull and includes an adjustable cheek riser while the handguard has M-LOK slots. Note the QD spot to the rear, one of no less than six on the gun, and the sling swivel bracket for an HK-style sling clip or old-school paracord loop. If you can't figure out how to put a sling on this bad boy, that's on you.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The ejection port is located on both sides, just above the mag well, and is dependent on how the bolt is oriented. We'll get into that.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The Hellion ships with a BCMGunfighter Mod 3 grip installed-- notably the same ones used by Springfield on its Saint series ARs-- but should take about any AR15-compatible grip. Note the two-position very HK-ish selector paddle that awkwardly puts "safe" at about the 1 o'clock position. For the record, we found the trigger to break at around 5.5-pounds.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The non-reciprocating HK36/SLR-8 style charging handle is top-mounted under the Picatinny top rail and can be used as a forward assist. Ambidextrous, the handle pivots left and right. Also note another QD, the M-LOK slots on the handguard, and a rotating sling attachment just under the front sight.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The rifle uses a two-position (Normal and Suppressed) adjustable short-stroke gas piston operating system, with the adjustment knob just over the barrel. Under the muzzle device are standard threads, making it suppressor-ready, a factor where the adjustable gas system comes into play. 


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
When it comes to surface controls, the Hellion is fully-ambi and, rotating for a look at its belly, shows the bolt release and mag release.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
On the left side of the rifle, you see a mirror of the right with the same QD points and control access.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The top of the rifle runs a foot-long unbroken Picatinny rail for optics and is bookended by genuinely nice integral flip-up iron sights that are adjustable. There are five apertures on the rear sight, 0-1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 which are 100-meter increments (5=500 meters).


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The rail can also function as a carrying handle if you are a FAMAS fan.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
Going into the field strip process, the take-down is easy and can be done without tools via a system of captive push pins in the frame. When it comes to the reversible ejection system that can be swapped without using special tools, you just field strip the bolt and change the timing orientation to the left when reassembling it. Springfield Armory covers the swap in a detailed video.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
Despite its short length, the Hellion has a 16-inch CMV barrel with a 1:7 twist and a Melonite coating. Its overall length makes it a dream for CQB style shooting and the adjustable stock-- you just don't see that on bullpups-- makes the gun modular for a wide range of shooters. 




 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
For starters, we ran 500 rounds of assorted 5.56 and .223 consisting largely of M193 55-grain ball and M855 Green Tip made by Winchester, MAN in Germany, and Federal Lake City loads with some Wolf and Tula steel case thrown in for good measure.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
We also tried assorted STANAG mags including some 20-round Colts, 60-round German-made Schmeisser S60 coffin mags, Magpul PMAGs in 30-round M3 and 60-round D60 formats, ETS coupler mags, and assorted metal body mags.

The takeaway? The gun ate everything we put through it, suffering only one malfunction. This occurred while using a Schmeisser S60 loaded with a mix of four different factory loads. We had the failure to fully extract on round 58 of 60 in the mag, at about round 420 of the test, on a gun right out of the box with no additional lube. It should be noted that the gun was both hot and dirty when the malf hit.

Video below.



 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine jam
A closer look at that crunching jam. Once cleared, the Hellion got right back into action and finished out the mag.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
One bonus with using the extended mags, such as the D60, shown, is that the extra weight really keeps the Hellion balanced and on center.


 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine
The flip side is that, when using the S60, is that firing from a prone position can be awkward unless it is from a hillside.

We ran the Hellion out to 100 yards for starters, and it had no issue on target. While not a match-grade rifle by any stretch, we had no problems pulling down regular 2- and 3-inch groups using bulk ammo and a little concentration from standard positions. I could hit every plate and paper I could see. This is perfectly acceptable for practical use. Match ammo and shooting from a rest/bench would probably tighten that up a little. We'll get back to you on that.


Airing Of Grievances


Let me show you on this doll where the Springfield Armory Hellion touched me.
Before I get to the gripes, let me be clear and say that my 30 or so years of experience in tactical rifles is Garand/M1A and AR-heavy with a touch of Galil and FAL thrown in, and I bear a general distaste of bullpups. Don't get me wrong, I have shot (and occasionally owned) several bullpups over the years, just never liked the triggers and overall handling characteristics. In short, few bullpups felt instinctual when it came to surface controls, which didn't translate from ARs, and the longer nature of their trigger pack function gave them a mushy and creepy pull that felt more akin to an AK.
While the Hellion is much better, in my opinion, than most of the first-gen bullpups-- the Steyr AUG, FAMAS, FS2000, etc.-- the trigger and controls still aren't amazing. They work. Just not how I am used to. The selector switch is awkward at first, as is the mag release, and the trigger is still a bit creepy. Keep in mind though that you can get over most of this with training. All guns have a learning curve.
Second, and another common trait of bullpups, as the action is so close to the face, you tend to eat a bit more brass than on traditional linear format rifles if you run it from the side with the ejection port. Sure, the Hellion has an easily swappable port, but there are just times when you must move left to right, such as getting a good shot from cover or concealment be it a barricade on the range or in an actual situation. If you do, be prepared to get some hot brass-to-the-face action.

Ahh, the old tactical ringworm.

With the above all taken in mind, if the concept of a bullpup interests you even mildly, the Hellion deserves a hard look as the gun has a lot of positives going for it including its ease of maintenance, ready acceptance of suppressors and optics, and solid reliability. Plus, the Hellion has much better ergos than some other bullpups on the market. You can tell the Croatians have worked the bugs out of the platform over the past couple of decades and the customer is not the beta tester. 
We'll keep working on the Hellion for another 500 rounds and touch base with a further review, so check back soon.

 Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup carbine

The Springfield Armory Hellion retails for $1,999, which, with inflation, will be a super deal in the coming months, and is generally on par with the Steyr AUG A3 M1 and the IWI Tavor X95.


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