I’ve recently had the opportunity to handle the new Croatian-made bullpup assault rifle, the VHS (Višenamjenska Hrvatska Strojnica or Multifunctional Croatian Assault Rifle). Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to actually fire it, so this mini-review is based solely on my general impressions.
I’ll start with the good: the first thing you notice when picking it up is “my God, this thing is light.” The weapon weighs in at around 3 kg. It also seems very well balanced, but without trying it with thirty 5.56s in the mag, I can’t attest to how balanced it is when loaded. Also, I can’t say how well it handles the recoil considering it’s weight.
The rifle’s general ergonomics of the rifle are great. It’s very compact; when picking it up it practically begs to be held tightly against the shoulder in a proper stance. The grip is in the right position to feel comfortable (at least for me), the rifle points naturally and the sights are in a good position for a proper cheek weld.
The charging handle is on top of the rifle, under the carrying handle. It’s ambidextrous and the pull is smooth if perhaps slightly heavier than what I’m used to. However, since the rifle is bullpup, the magazine is hard to reach for quick reloads. There is no convenient method of locking the bolt open, either.
I am told that the only way to lock it back is to remove the magazine and press a button located on the inside of the mag well. I am not sure what the proper procedure to clear a particularly nasty double feed would be on this rifle. There is, however, a bolt release located on the grip where a slide release on a pistol would be.
The VHS is also completely unusable for lefties in it’s current form. The brass ejection port is only found on the right side of the rifle, so any left handed shooter would either have to compromise his grip, get a face full of hot brass, or jam the weapon entirely. As far as I know, there is no way to flip the ejection on the current model either, however I could be mistaken.
Among the cons: the rifle’s looks. In it’s current form, it is pretty hard to distinguish the design of the VHS from the now almost 40-year-old design of the French bugle; the FAMAS rifle. In my humble opinion the VHS looks dated and well, butt-ugly. YMMV, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that.
My biggest gripe: the safety. It is positioned directly in front of the trigger, inside the trigger guard. The designer probably intended it to be manipulated with the trigger finger. However it’s hard to reach (and I have long fingers) and quite rigid. The safety lever rotates inside the trigger guard. When pressed to the back and directly in front of the trigger, the weapon is on safe. When rotated to the forward position, the weapon is ready to fire.
I can see a few problems with this design. It is very difficult to snap the safety to the forward position or back on safe without using the support hand, and there is always the possibility that it could snag and move. When the safety is moved even a little bit to the left or right from the forward position, the weapon is unable to fire. It’s easy to imagine a grunt attempting to flip the safety with a sweaty or bloody trigger finger and instead hitting the trigger.
The sights are adjustable for elevation and windage, and it’s easy to attain a good sight picture and sight alignement. However, without firing the rifle, I can’t say how good they are when it’s time to pull the trigger. A tool is required to adjust the sights.
The magazines are made out of plastic, very similar to the ones used in the G36, and they can be snapped together. The VHS is easy to field strip and disassemble for thorough cleaning.
I had the chance to discuss the rifle with a general in the Croatian army and he assures me that there is a second version being produced right now. This one has a more modern design with the carrying handle replaced with a G36c (or KV) style rail and a new safety/fire selector also similar to the one on the G36. The ejection port on the VHS 2 can be adjusted for left handed shooters. Here’s the new design:
The rifle is currently being used by certain units in the army, with some 10,000 rifles bought in 2009. It’s set to replace the Ak-47s as the standard weapon of the Croatian Army in the near future. I’ve also heard rumors that the unit price for a VHS is 10,000 Kuna which is around $1600. In my humble opinion, that’s a bit expensive for the VHS in it’s current form. If it is improved as the video suggests, however, it might just prove to be a weapon suitable for the modern battlefield.