September 23, 2022
By Keith Wood
Bullpup carbines are a bit like the metric system. They’re popular in Europe and elsewhere, and they make lots of sense, but they’ve never really caught on here in the United States. These compact and capable carbines are the staple of many of the world’s armies, particularly our allies in Great Britain, France, Australia, Austria and Israel. Despite their widespread adoption worldwide, though, bullpups have never been more than a niche player in the U.S. firearms industry. With the introduction of the Croatian-made Hellion, Springfield Armory is hoping to reverse that lack of popularity.
A bullpup is a carbine where the action sits to the rear of the firing grip, reducing the overall length while maintaining a cartridge-appropriate barrel length. Popular examples include the French FAMAS, the Austrian Steyr AUG, the British SA-80, the Israeli IWI Tavor and the Croatian VHS-K2 on which the Hellion is based. These rifles are all compact, making them ideal for working in and around vehicles and in urban environments. With a bullpup, the user gets compact overall dimensions without super-short barrels that can rob muzzle velocity. For comparison, the 16-inch barreled Hellion shares the same overall length of an AR-15 with an 11-inch barrel and gets there without the hassle of federal registration for a Short Barreled Rifle and often finicky reliability.
Springfield Croatia Collaboration
The Hellion is produced by HS Produkt in Karlovac, Croatia, with input from Springfield Armory back here at home. This same firm produces Springfield’s XD lineup of handguns, so the relationship has long been proven successful. Unlike many commercially designed carbines that come onto the market, this gun has been subjected to the rigors of military trials and combat. As mentioned, the Hellion is effectively a semiautomatic version of HS Produkt’s VHS-K2 carbine, a gun developed after the war with Serbia in the 1990s. That Gen One version saw action when Croatian forces deployed to Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror.
After some shortcomings revealed themselves on the battlefield, tweaks were made to the design, and it is that second-generation design on which the Hellion is based. It’s no clone, though, and for the U.S. market, HS Produkt and Springfield Armory made several aesthetic and functional tweaks that also make the gun compliant with import laws that require a requisite number of domestic parts. The Hellion is a magazine-fed, semiautomatic that operates using a short-stroke gas piston and a non-reciprocating charging handle. At this time, the Hellion is chambered only in 5.56 NATO, and the carbine feeds from AR-compatible magazines, which eliminates a key downside of many exotic imports.
The Hellion’s controls, stock design, ejection ports and even its sling-mounting locations make this carbine completely ambidextrous. This isn’t simply to accommodate left-handed shooters; it is so soldiers using the carbine in the field can transition from one shoulder to the other, minimizing their exposure to enemy fire, depending on the cover present. The 16-inch barrel is made from chrome moly vanadium and rifled with a 1:7 twist. Barrels are treated with Melonite inside and out for corrosion and wear resistance. The barrel is threaded 1/2x28 at the muzzle, making it adaptable with most muzzle devices designed for use on the AR-15. The factory flash hider is a basic four-prong design.
Since the stock/chassis of the Hellion is arguably its most distinctive feature, I’ll begin there. A single polymer unit runs the length of this carbine, from the butt to the forward edge of the handguard. The steel working parts and most of the barrel are concealed and protected underneath this shell. One immediate benefit is that there are few places on the Hellion where you can easily burn yourself when the metal parts get hot. The buttstock itself is adjustable for length of pull at five different positions by simply depressing the toe of the stock. The comb height is adjustable as well, and that section of the stock doubles as an ambidextrous brass deflector.
The Gunfighter Mod 3 pistol grip is made by Bravo Company Manufacturing, and the Hellion is compatible with any grip designed for use on the AR series of rifles. The U.S.-made fore-end is M-Lok compatible and made of polymer. Nine M-Lok slots are located on the sides and bottom of the fore-end for the mounting of accessories. Several sling mounting locations are built into the Hellion: QD-style mounts on both sides of the buttstock and fore-end as well as similar attachment points for hook-type sling hardware.
A carry handle runs most of the length of the Hellion, giving it a similar look to the French FAMAS. The entire top of that handle is an uninterrupted Picatinny rail, which makes the Hellion compatible with nearly any optic imaginable. Unlike most AR-style rifles, mounting an optic does not require high rings or mounts. The sights on the Hellion are of extremely high quality. These steel sights flip up and lock into place, and they combine a protected post front with a rear aperture. The front post is adjustable for elevation and the rear aperture is adjustable for windage without the use of tools. Five different sight apertures are present on the rear sight, ranging in diameter from a small, super-precise one to a ghost-ring style opening.
The non-reciprocating charging handle rides below the optic rail in a configuration reminiscent of the HK G36. Like the G36, the charging handle can be operated from either side. Under spring pressure, it returns to the neutral position once it is released. The safety/selector switch is located on either side of the receiver, just above the pistol grip. It is not as handy as the extremely ergonomic safety lever found on the AR, but it is still operable without removing the hand from the pistol grip. There is a benefit to this. AR-style rifles with ambidextrous safety levers often bump my hand in recoil, but this lever does not.
Magazine changes can be executed quickly with one hand. Though the Hellion uses AR-15-style magazines, the catch is located at the rear of the mag well and is accessible from either side. The bolt release sits behind the magazine, putting it in a handy location that is quick to access during mag changes. Like nearly all bullpup triggers, the Hellion’s trigger is nothing to brag about, but it isn’t as bad as many internet commandos would have you believe. The two-stage trigger has a long take-up and a bit of a squishy break at 6.5 pounds. The reset is on the long side as well. It is not a precision rifle trigger, but to me, it’s fine for this rifle’s intended purpose. The internals on the Hellion combine elements of the ultra-reliable AK and the usually very accurate AR designs. This hybrid system first appeared on the lesser-known AR-18 rifle. A long operating rod runs through the top of the receiver and is secured to a mostly rectangular bolt carrier at the rear.
The bolt itself is inspired by Eugene Stoner’s AR-10/AR-15 design, with eight locking lugs that interface with corresponding lug seats at the rear of the chamber. The coil-spring-actuated extractor and plunger-type ejector are both AR clones as well. When the rifle is fired, the short-stroke gas piston moves roughly two inches rearward, driving the bolt carrier to the rear. The bolt itself rotates inside the carrier, just as on the AK. A two-position gas regulator has two positions: N (normal) and S (suppressed). To select between the two, push in the regulator knob and turn it.
Disassembling the Hellion is easier than it looks. Three captive takedown pins are pushed from the right side of the receiver to the left. The buttstock can be removed to the rear with the recoil spring assembly attached. Pressing a button on the bottom of the chassis allows the entire fire control/trigger group to slide out of the receiver. The bolt carrier and operating rod assembly then slide rearward and out. The firing pin, spring, cam pin and bolt can be removed from the carrier without tools. It bears mentioning that the cam pin has two positions in the bolt. To reverse from right-side to left-side ejection, the user simply chooses between these pin locations. To reverse the spring-loaded ejection port cover, remove the stock’s comb and trade the port cover’s retaining pin from one side of the receiver to the other.
With the trigger group removed, the magazine well can be removed. The magazine well is modular, making the rifle compatible with non-AR style magazines by simply swapping out this unit. For example, the Croatian armed forces use the G36 magazine on their version of the Hellion. The fore-end slides off easily, exposing the barrel and part of the gas system. Finally, depressing the large round buttons below the rear sight allows the entire upper rail and handguard assembly to hinge upward and off the receiver.
With the upper removed, the gas system itself can be pulled for cleaning. The good news, especially for those accustomed to AR-10/AR-15 carbines, is that most of the carbon will be found on the gas system rather than inside the receiver thanks to the short-stroke arrangement. The intuitive controls made operating the Hellion relatively simple, although you must keep in mind that you are not running an AR-15. Shooting the Hellion was a treat. Recoil was minimal, although due to the barrel’s proximity to the shooter, the blast and noise were significant. A suppressor would be a great addition and, given the gun’s compact dimensions, would still provide a short, handy package.
Rather than a large target scope that would be out of place on such a rifle, I chose to mount a more practical Leupold VX-5HD 1-5x24mm variable. The maximum 5X magnification probably handicapped me a bit when it came to shooting tiny groups at 100 yards, but not by much. I tested the Hellion with four different loads/ammo types and the carbine was 100 percent reliable across the board. You may choose the Hellion because its compact dimensions are ideal for use in and around vehicles. You may like the carbine’s futuristic looks or just want to own something a bit different. No matter the reason, the Springfield Armory Hellion is a well thought-out, highly functional and capable carbine. Who knows, maybe this will be the bullpup that catches on in the U.S.
Springfield Armory Hellion Bullpup Carbine Specs
- Type: Semiautomatic, bullpup
- Cartridge: 5.56 NATO
- Capacity: 30+1
- Barrel: 16 in., 1:7 twist, threaded 1/2x28
- Overall Length: 28.25–29.75 in.
- Weight: 8 lbs.
- Stock: black synthetic bullpup- style
- Finish: Melonite
- Trigger: Adjustable two-stage, 6.5 lb. pull (as received)
- Safety: Two-position, ambidextrous
- Sights: Flip-up protected post front and 5-position rear aperture; full-length Picatinny rail
- MSRP: $1,999
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory