Staff Writer (Updated: 10/1/2013):
Croatian gunsmiths attempted this modification to the fabled AK-47 with only limited success. However, the development period led to a variety of other promising prototype endeavors though none of these advanced. In 2003, a new prototype emerged with the Croatian Army pushing for its development to coincide with a requirement for a NATO-friendly combat rifle - in particular utilizing the widely-accepted 5.56x45mm NATO standard round. Design work continued into 2005 to which the rifle was delivered to the Croatian Army authorities. After a period of evaluation, the VHS was formally selected for serial production with the first quantitative order placed in late 2007 numbering some 50 examples. These initial rifles were then sent with Croatian forces as part of the NATO coalition operating in the Afghanistan Theater following the American invasion in 2001. This valuable in-the-field combat exposure was used to finalized the VHS design even further. Upon full operational acceptance, the VHS is intended to replace all outgoing Soviet-era Kalashnikov service assault rifles. Since its inception, the VHS family line has been produced by the Croatian concern of HS Produkt (formerly IM Metal), a private defense contractor based out of Karlovac.
Outwardly, the VHS bears an uncanny resemblance to the French FAMAS - an assault rifle design appearing in 1978 and also centering on the bullpup configuration while being chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. Like the FAMAS, the VHS has a long running carrying handled joined at the front and rear of the receiver. The handle also contains integrated aperture sights. The cocking handle is set within the carrying handle loop along the top of the receiver. The receiver is designed as two major components - and upper portion and a lower - and showcases a short forend hand-hold area ahead of the trigger unit to encourage a strong two-handed grip. The pistol grip is slightly angled rearwards and ribbed for a firm hold. The trigger is curved in design and protected by an oblong trigger guard. The shoulder stock is somewhat enlarged and fixed in place for the required action and internal working components. The firing action is said to be gas-operation with a "tappet" closed gas system utilizing a rotating bolt. Rate-of-fire is reported at 750 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 3,120 feet per second. The magazine feed is set under the shoulder stock (aft of the pistol grip) with the ejection port set to the right hand side of the gun body. The barrel protrudes a short distance away from the gun body and is capped by a muzzle accessory. The base VHS-D assault rifle (available variants described below) model sports an overall length of 765mm with a barrel length of 500mm. Beyond the standard provided sights, optional optics are available for specialized fire. Construction of the rifle includes both metal and polymer components. The VHS is also designed to fire rifle grenades from its barrel while also having provisions for use with a grenade launcher - this presumably fitted under the forend. All told, the VHS weighs in at 7.5lbs with its 30 inch length. The VHS accepts both 20- and 30-round magazine counts in STANAG form.
As of this writing, the VHS system exists in two distinct production forms - the basic VHS-D assault rifle and the VHS-K carbine. In the latter, the VHS is completed with a shorter barrel measuring in at 400m in length. This installation provides the basic VHS body with a much overall shorter running length, making it ideal for use in close-quarters battle (CQB) or for use by combat elements such as paratroopers or vehicle crews. Performance specifications vary only slightly between the two with the K-model sporting a rate-of-fire up to 760 rounds per minute with a lower muzzle velocity rated at 3,080 feet per second. The VHS-K weighs in at 7.3lbs and showcases a 26 inch length.