After Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990’s, Croatia became an independent country. The result was also an internal conflict against various peoples and regions up until 1995 and again in 1999.
The lack of war material quickly became apparent, at the same time, the United Nations pronounced an embargo for military and strategic furnishing of all the belligerents.
The result was the development of local small arms factories, the most ingenious and dynamic of them evolving later into today’s Croatian armament industry.
The main producer of small arms in Croatia is HS Produkt, established in the city of Karlovac, located 35 miles South-West of Zagreb. It is a fully private company, with a modern factory and many CNC machines. They employ 1,850 people and the work is organized with 4) 6-hour shifts each day. During our visit, all of the small arms we saw were manufactured inside the factory, including cold hammering barrels and molding plastic components.
As stated by Mr. Zeljko Pavlin, the factory manager, the small arms production began in 1991 with ITM pistol’s so-called PHP (Prvi Hrvatski Pistol). The enterprise at this date was known as IM Metal and was established in Ozalj. Approx 10,000 pistols were made with milled frames. It looks like the Beretta 92, with a slide very close to
P 38. The pistol had a double action trigger mechanism and a bolt stop latch. Two variations did exist with short or long barrel.
Later the HS 95 pistol was developed, with a molded steel frame. It was designed like the SIG P226 pistol, with a square trigger guard, external hammer and single or double action and a de-cocking lever. It was used by the Army and police force (15,000 guns were produced).
In 2000, the HS 2000 was made with a polymer frame. It includes many characteristics inspired from both the Glock and P 226 pistols. In 2001, it became the HS 9 and was also sold in the U.S.A. by Springfield Armory.
HS-9. The frame and grip are made of molded polymer with metallic inserts, square trigger guards and a front rail permitting the mounting of various accessories. The grip is textured on both sides. The frame can be furnished in black, khaki or tan. The barrel has a square rear section which acts as the lock, located just inside the ejection port. The recoil spring is located under the barrel. Surrounding square slide is made of alloy steel (Inox steel), with the ejection port at top-right and wide grooves both at rear and front. The magazine is made of Inox steel and has a polymer base plate. The ambidextrous lock is located at the rear trigger guard base.
HS 9 uses several safety devices:
– Trigger safety;
– Grip safety grip;
– Bolt open latch located on left face;
– Cocking indicator;
– The extractor acts as a “loaded” indicator.
The rear “U” type sight and front sight can be adjusted. Both have painted white dots. The pistol functions using a barrel-recoil action, it is on an oblique ramp. The firing pin is automatically cocked when the slide is closed.
XDM Series 4.5. This is the new generation HS 9, slightly enlarged, with a trapezoidal rear sight protector and various colored inserts for the front sight. The pistol grips have a new shape. Several back grips are included for various shooters’ hand comfort.
VHS-1 assault rifle. The Visenamjenska Hrvatska Stojnica (multi-purpose Croatian automatic rifle) was designed by Marko Vucovik. It looks similar to the French FAMAS, but it works with a gas action short-stroke piston and has a multi lugs locking bolt like the M16. It was premiered in 2005 and tested by the Croatian Army in 2007 then adopted later. This is a compact bullpup style rifle. The frame is covered by a three part sheath, having a carrying handle, a handguard and the pistol grip. The cocking lever is centrally located in the axis and can be charged from the right or the left side. The ejection port is on the right hand side. The frame is made of steel; the barrel and bolt are made of machined steel and the sheath is polymer.
The firing selector is located above the trigger, it has single shot (right position), safety (center) or burst (left position). The bolt stop lever is located just above the pistol grip on the left side.
– Conventional rear and front sight mounted on the carrying handle;
– Collimator installed on the side of the carrying handle;
– Any other optic on a Picatinny rail.
VHS-1 is loaded using a standard M16 curved box-magazine but there is a variant for the G36 magazine. The VHS system is a gas action with a short stroke piston and a gas port above the chamber to reduce recoil. The system is able to launch NATO Standard 22 mm rifle grenades.
The bayonet is a knife-bayonet-shears combination made in Germany by Borkott & Eickhorn in Solingen. The VHS has several accessories:
– Laser sight;
– 40x46mm grenade launcher.
This is the description of the standard version, but a short barrel rifle designed VHS-K also exists. 15,000 VHS are used by the Croatian Army and some others are in service in Iraq and Kurdistan.
VHS-2 assault rifle. VHS-2 was developed in 2013 to replace the VHS, of which production has stopped. Several points were improved:
– Stock is adjustable in length and cheek rest in high;
– The mechanism can be easily reversed for use by a right- or left-handed shooter. Ejection ports are located on both sides, the one not in use is closed by the flap cover; – The selector is now ambidextrous, it is located above the pistol grip and can be moved with the thumb for either type shooter. It has safety, single shot, and full auto positions. The bolt stop latch is now located behind the magazine well;
– The trigger guard is enlarged to permit shooting with gloves;
– This rifle uses its own polymer magazines but M16-style magazines can be used with an adapter. VHS-2 can launch NATO Standard rifle grenades with 22 mm receptacle, but it can also mount a 40x46mm grenade launcher which can be mounted under the handguard.
Several variations were also developed:
– VHS-D 2, with upper carrying handle and Picatinny rail allowing installation of conventional sights or a sighting device;
– VHS-K 2, a shorter barrel version;
– VHS-D 2-CT-1,5 X, the upper carrying handle has a red dot optical sight;
– VHS-K 2-CT-1,5 X, same as above but with short barrel.
The Croatian Minister of Defense has stated his intention of ordering 20,000 VHS-2 rifles for 10 700 Kunas each (approximately $1,380).
The VHS-2 was also actually tested by the French Army in the FAMAS replacement program (AIF or Future Infantry Weapon program). Four other guns are also in the competition.
VHS-BG grenade launcher. This is a single shot 40x46mm grenade launcher. It has a rifled barrel, mounted on an operating mechanism that includes a ring trigger and a safety. It also has a folding sight graduated up to 350 meters, and a front sight that matches.
To load, the tube turns to the side. This grenade launcher can be fitted on the VHS or VHS-2 rifle or on a standalone device with stock and pistol grip.
Our factory visit was completed with live firing both HS-9 pistols and VHS-2 rifles, and we could appreciate both performance and ergonomic design of each. HS-Produkt can produce 600,000 pistols and 30,000 assault rifles each year, with impressive quality and standardization.