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Springfield Armory's Upgraded 20 Inch Hellion Bullpup Rifle

The popular Springfield Armory Hellion Bullpup Rifle is now available in a 20-inch model. Feature-packed and with full-size rifle ballistics in a compact package, this is one great bugout bullpup!

Springfield Armory's Upgraded 20 Inch Hellion Bullpup Rifle
The Springfield Hellion is the civilian version of the Croatian VHS-2 assault rifle. (Sean Utley)

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When the engineers at Springfield Amory imported modified Croatian HS-2000 pistols under the new XD moniker more than two decades ago, many gun nerds — myself included — hoped they would bring additional Croatian military firearms into the states. Last year, our prayers were answered with the introduction of the Springfield Hellion — a civilian-legal version of the Croatian VHS-2 bullpup carbine. While this gun was fantastic and critically acclaimed, it wasn’t quite the exact same gun issued to the Croatian armed forces. Full-auto capability aside, it also featured a 16-inch barrel instead of the proper 18-inch one found on the VHS-2 and lacked the rifle-grenade-launching spigot. Springfield Armory responded once again with more of an original model this year, but they also brought in a new version 
featuring a 20-inch barrel. This got me very excited, as the 20-inch barrel offers more benefits than simply increased muzzle velocity. However, you might think, “Isn’t the Croatian VHS-2 a relatively unproven design with almost zero combat experience?” Not true. Actually, Croatia provided somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 VHS-2 rifles to Iraqi security forces and special operations forces in the wake of the War on Terror, with many seeing action in the counter-offensive against ISIS with great effect. And on a personal note, any rifle that can handle the punishing super-fine sand of the Iraqi desert and not grind to a halt is likely good to go. So, Let’s take a closer look at the new Springfield Hellion 20-inch and see if lightning can strike twice.

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The Hellion is extremely modular and accepts all optics, muzzle devices and M-LOK accessories designed for the AR-15. (Yes, Beta-Mags will work too!)

Springfield Hellion 20-inch Features

For starters, the Hellion is a semi-automatic version of the Croatian VHS-2. Like the VHS-2, the Springfield Hellion is a magazine-fed bullpup carbine that operates VIA a short-stroke piston-driven action. There’s much to cover, so let’s start with the muzzle and work back to ensure we don’t miss anything. The Springfield Hellion ships with a 20-inch, chrome moly vanadium tapered barrel featuring a 1:7 twist rate. If you’ve never heard of chrome moly vanadium, it’s a term coined by the engineers at Colt that designates the use of 4150 steel with the addition of vanadium for corrosion and wear resistance. The muzzle is capped with a four-prong flash-hider and is threaded to standard 1/2x28. So, shooters can install any standard AR-15 muzzle device like a compensator or sound suppressor.

Behind the muzzle device, the Hellion features a bayonet lug and a ribbed barrel section for attaching rifle grenades. While these grenades are nearly impossible to obtain stateside, the addition of the ribs is a nod to collectors and purists who want a near-perfect (at least ostensibly) facsimile of the real deal. Speaking of which, if shooters want to mount a bayonet on the new Hellion, they’ll need a specific NATO-spec bayonet like the German Waffentechnik Model B2K offered on Springfield’s website. Interestingly, these German bayonets are made in the same town (and possibly by the same company) that made bayonets for Imperial Germany during the first World War.

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The Hellion gives shooters the ballistic efficacy of a full-sized AR-15 in a vastly more compact package.

Further back, just ahead of the polymer handguard, the new Springfield bullpup features an adjustable gas valve with two settings: “S” for suppressed and “N” for normal operation. The former restricts gas flow to compensate for the increased back pressure generated by attaching a sound suppressor. However, in testing, I found that both settings ran flawlessly with my SilencerCo Hybrid 46M attached (SilencerCo.com). Truth be told, the only perceivable difference was the decrease in gas blowback to the shooter’s face. While tolerable in the standard setting, it was all but eliminated in the suppressed setting. Behind this, the Hellion features an excellent polymer handguard with M-LOK slots at the two-, ten-, and six o’clock positions. This might seem a little odd, but it’s due to the fact that the side of the Hellion’s handguards are slightly tapered inward in an almost tear-drop shape when viewed from the front.

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The Hellion ships with a 30-round Magpul PMAG (where legal) and accepts all STANAG-pattern magazines. The Hellion’s folding, non-reciprocating charging handle betrays its G36 heritage. Unlike nearly all bullpups, the Hellion includes an adjustable stock.

The only downside to this configuration is that it prevents mounting oversized lasers like the Russian PERST-4 or the American L3 AN/PEQ-2 as they are blocked by the charging handle guard on top. So, if you have one and want to kit out your Hellion as a night-fighting carbine, you’ll have to mount the device at the twelve- or six o’clock position. Not the end of the world, but certainly something to be aware of. Now above the handguard, the rifle ships with a full-length monolithic Picatinny rail for mounting optics. The rail is fully numbered for ease of re-mounting and incorporates fully adjustable, folding backup iron sights that lay flush when down. Despite being merely backup sights, these aperture-type sights are very usable. They feature five different elevation settings (with different-sized apertures), and they’re built from some variety of ferrous material that I assume is steel and feature a rugged blued finish. One interesting fact about the sights is that they fold in different directions and are spring-loaded. So, a shooter needs only to press the two buttons adjacent to the sights, and they’ll rapidly deploy in a locked position. This very 
well-thought-out design keeps the irons out of the way when not needed and instantly accessible.

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The pistol grip is more vertical than what is commonly found on AR-15s, and if it doesn’t suite the shooter, they can replace it with any AR-15- pattern one. The new bullpup includes both an M-LOK handguard and adjustable gas system. Although somewhat unconventional, the result is a handguard that fills the support hand palm while giving better purchase to the fingers and thumb by letting them slightly wrap around the guard. The front of the handguard features a QD sling mount. The last segment of the rifle’s 20-inch barrel features a bay- onet lug, a ribbed section for launching rifle grenades, and a 1/2x28 threaded muzzle topped with a multi-prong flash-hider.

Just below the front sight, the Hellion features a pair of ambidextrous sling loops constructed from heavy-duty blued steel anchored into the receiver. Under the sights and integral rail is the first big clue about the Hellion’s (and, by extension, the VHS-2) origins. A 12 o’clock, non-reciprocating, folding charging handle. If this looks familiar to my fellow gun nerds, it’s because it bears more than a passing resemblance to the charging handle found on the Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifles. Which makes sense — the Hellion is essentially a bullpup G36 in my opinion. The VHS-2 even shipped with an integral optic like the German assault rifle. Sadly, these are thus far unavailable in the United States, but if the original G36 integral optic is anything to go by, $300 US-made optics put it to shame, so other than purists, we’re not really missing out. If you need further evidence, look at how the original VHS-2 utilized G36-pattern magazines. Thankfully, the Hellion does away with these in favor of the infinitely more affordable/common AR-15, STANAG-pattern magazines.

Bullpup Ergonomics

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The bolt release requires the shooter to pinch it together. While somewhat odd initially, becomes second nature quickly. The new version of the Hellion features a much more ergonomic safety selector. The middle of the receiver below the rear sight also features a quick detach sling mount. There’s even a third QD mount at the very rear of the gun for traditional two- point sling carry.

One aspect of bullpup rifles that tends to turn shooters off to them as a whole is their ergonomics. Yes, the advantage of shortening the overall gun while making it more centrally balanced can’t be overstated, but the controls and the way a shooter has to manipulate the gun can be extremely awkward. This is especially true with older designs like Steyr’s AUG rifle, whose heavy trigger, combined with its oddly located magazine release, can make shooting the gun under pressure very difficult. Not to mention the fact that bullpups are notoriously challenging to reload when shooting from the prone position if you’re unfamiliar with them, this is because they require the shooter to reach under their shooting arm to extract the spent magazine. How does the Hellion address these fundamental bullpup issues? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t — at least not totally. The trigger, especially on the new 20-inch barrel model, is one of the nicest I’ve ever felt on a bullpup. However, all the rearward controls, like the bolt release, are still fairly counter-intuitive, especially for shooters with extensive time on an AR-15.

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Equipped with a variable magnification optic and a shorter, 20-round magazine, the Hellion is very comfortable to shoot from the prone position. The magazine release is conveniently located at the rear of the magazine well. Sights fold in different directions and are spring-loaded. Just press the two buttons adjacent to the sights, and they’ll rapidly deploy in a locked position.

For the uninitiated, the bolt release is a button that runs parallel to the barrel. This button’s housing is scalloped to provide a counter-pressure point for shooters to pinch the button to drop the bolt. It sounds bizarre, but after a few repetitions, it is easy enough to use. But I will admit, as someone with hundreds of hours behind an AUG and an IWI X95, I kept trying to mash a non-existent bolt release in my armpit. But again, with training, this will become second nature. Speaking of which, I’ve always felt that the fire selector on the AR-15 is very ergonomic. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the gold standard for modern sporting rifles. It can be actuated with the firing hand without shifting or removing the grip and is very positive and thus easy to use in low-light conditions. The original Hellion featured a similar style selector to the AR-15 but was at an awkward angle that made it very tricky to utilize without having to reposition the shooting hand. The new 20-inch Hellion has further refined the selector’s geometry so that it is much lower and closer to the shooting hand. In my experience, this drastically increases the usability of the selector. As it no longer requires me to move my shooting hand’s thumb to an almost vertical position to use. Instead, it feels much more natural while still staying out of the way when shooting. 10/10 Springfield, excellent job! Speaking about the shooting hand, the pistol grip is more vertical than what is commonly found on AR-15s, and if it doesn’t suite the shooter, they can replace it with any AR-15-pattern one.

Performance

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The 20-inch Hellion (top) isn’t much larger than the 16-inch original version.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road; What separates the groupies from the rock stars: performance. Despite what Instagram influencers might tell you, firearms are tools. And if they don’t function reliably or in the capacity they were designed for, they are effectively worthless. For reliability testing, the Hellion was fed four different types of 5.56mm ammunition from five different styles of magazines. Each magazine was loaded to capacity and fired first for accuracy from a Lyman Bag Jack rest mounted on a shooting bench. After rounds were chronographed and accuracy groups measured, the Hellion was rapid fired for 60 consecutive rounds before being allowed to cool for five minutes. After these five minutes, the next 60 rounds of ammo were fired quickly through the gun, and the weapon was inspected if any malfunctions occurred.

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Although ostensibly complex, the Hellion breaks down easily.

Also important to note is that the gun was not cleaned or oiled after an initial light oiling performed by the reviewer. Upon receipt of the Hellion, it was field-stripped and lightly oiled with synthetic motor oil to represent a worst-case scenario. One where, at the end of the world as we know it, specialized lubricants and quality ammunition are either gone or demanding a premium. With that said, how did the Hellion perform? In terms of reliability, the Hellion was flawless. For the review, I fired 240 rounds of almost NATO-spec 62gr Igmann 5.56mm, 260 rounds of 55gr Privi Partisan, 300 rounds of new production AAC (Meaning Palmetto State Armory) 62gr FMJ, 100 rounds of Federal 77gr Match King ammo, and 40 rounds of 77gr Match from SIG Performance Ammunition. In all that time, with no additional cleaning or lubricant other than off-brand clearance SAE-10W 30 from a big box store, the Hellion experienced no malfunctions whatsoever.

Recommended


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Best group for 77-grain Federal Match- King scored 1.55 inches (top left). Norma 62-grain FMJ scored 2.23 inch- es for its best five-shot group (top right). SIG Performance 77-grain BTHP Match came in at 1.40 inches for its best five- shot group (bottom right). The last thing a would-be attacker sees as he tries to sneak up on you and your family in an EOTWAWKI situation.

That’s a whopping 940 rounds of mixed ammo through a downright filthy firearm without so much as a hiccup! If I had a bank account similar to an Eastern European Oligarch, I’d love to continue this test out to 5,000 or 10,000 rounds and see just how long until something breaks. For the time being, the new Hellion seems to be good to go. But what about accuracy? After all, if the gun can’t reliability hit its intended target, no level of reliability will make it worth its salt. I took the new 20-inch barreled version of the Springfield Hellion out to my good friend’s farm so I could stretch its legs beyond the standard 100-yard target most reviewers utilize. Instead, we set up paper targets at 400 yards and steel targets out to 650 yards — and the results were telling. In a nutshell, the Hellion is around a 1.8 to two-MOA rifle; this might not seem terribly impressive compared to all the match-grade ARs on the market today. But this level of precision is sufficient for engaging steel targets out to 800 yards if a shooter does their part (2 MOA at 800 yards is a 16-inch circle, which is smaller than the average human torso.)  

Springfield Hellion: Good-to-Go or Gimmick?

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With its excellent reliability, compact design, and top-notch terminal ballis- tics, the 20-inch barrel Hellion makes a fantastic bug-out gun.

Seems like this question gets asked every time a, ’new’ bullpup design is released, and truth be told, it’s hard to answer objectively. At least as far as bullpups, in general, go. That is indeed a question for the ages — one that countless military thinkers have attempted to tackle with differing results. Though it is telling that many nations that initially adopted bullpups are returning to variants of the M4 — but that’s a topic for another day. Back to the topic at hand: while no man is an island, we can certainly consider the Hellion’s design and its merits on its own. In that sense, the Springfield Hellion is an excellent design. It may not be the ultimate replacement for America’s favorite black rifle, but there’s no denying that the new longer-barreled Hellion is a capable design. One that affords shooters superior ballistics to a standard 16-inch AR-15 in a much more compact, maneuverable package that is balanced infinitely better.

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Photo by Sean Utley

And if we were to compare it to bullpup peers like the X95 or Steyr AUG, the Hellion is every bit as capable. It even had superior ergonomics to the AUG, in my opinion. However, I would really like the gun if they had somehow managed to incorporate the X95’s push-button magazine release ahead of the trigger. But given the gun’s design and its G36-inspired origins, this would likely require a complete redesign of the gun. So, with all that said, is the Hellion worth its nearly $1,800 (common retail price), I argue yes. A larger company may make the Hellion, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a small production run. Similar products from smaller companies without the same economic might as Springfield would likely cost twice as much and suffer from growing pains. The production expertise and continued dedication to quality, unique firearms ensure that these new variants of the Hellion are rock-solid and yawn-inducingly reliable out the gate — the perfect recipe for a gun a shooter can trust their life to.

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Springfield Armory Hellion 20-inch Specs

  • Caliber: 5.56x45mm
  • Operation: Short-stroke gas with rotating bolt
  • Barrel Length: 20 in. 
  • Barrel Twist: 1:7-in. RH twist
  • OAL: 32.25-33.75 in. 
  • Length of Pull: 16.1-17.6 in. 
  • Weight: 8 lbs., 6 oz. 
  • Feed: Standard STANAG AR-15 detachable box magazines
  • Sights: BUIS with M1913 rail
  • MSRP: $2,031
  • Contact: Springfield Armory

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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