As the Army, Navy and other services contend with a thriving economy and a directive to expand their ranks, there is a growing debate over whether the military should consider lowering the minimum enlistment age from 17 to 16. More than a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, already have adopted the policy.
Critics say the idea is deeply flawed and presents a host of societal problems, but supporters argue that the Pentagon needs to think outside the box if it wants to continually overcome one of the toughest recruiting environments in decades.
Neither the military nor lawmakers have given any indication that they are entertaining the idea, but some analysts say that opening the ranks to younger Americans could provide unique benefits and may be the kind of fundamental overhaul the recruiting system needs for the 21st century.
"For one, many of the factors that disqualify older youths from joining — like criminal records — are not as present in younger teens," said Shane McCarthy, chief marketing officer of Sandboxx, a leading technology platform that connects military members stationed abroad with families and friends at home. Mr. McCarthy also has advised military commands on how to better target recruits.