Philip Kotler
4 min readMay 2, 2024


May 2, 2024

How Can the U.S. Increase its All-Volunteer Fighting Force (AVF)?

Philip Kotler

Tensions are increasing in the world. Russia continues its brutal attacks to take over and erase Ukraine. Israel continues to search and kill Hamas leaders and troops at great cost to the lives of Gaza citizens. And China rattles its sword against sovereign Taiwan.

In the face of increasing military threats, the U.S. military is, overall, failing to meet their recruitment targets for attracting volunteer recruits. At the end of the 2023 fiscal year (September 2023), three branches reported falling short of their annual recruitment goals: the Navy was at 80% of its target number, the Army was at 77%, and the Air Force was at 89%. The Marine Corps and Space Force were the only branches to meet their recruitment goals.

This raises a challenging set of questions:

1. How many trained military persons does the U.S. armed forces need?

2. Why do we fail to attract enough volunteers?

3. What steps can the military take to increase the number of volunteers?

4. If the military fails to attract enough volunteers, what are the alternative solutions?

How Many Trained Military Persons Does the U.S. Armed Forces Need?

During the Vietnam War, our fighting force numbered 4 million people. Currently, this figure stands at 1.3 million. If a major war involving the U.S. should break out, is a force of 1.3 million trained military persons sufficient? If not, should we increase our volunteer recruitment to reach the targets that were set by the Army, Navy, Air force, Marines, and Space Force. If this fails, should the U.S. government vote to install a draft system to draft enough persons into military service?

The question of how many military trained personnel the U.S. would need has a lot to do with how future wars will be fought. New war technologies suggest that battles will be won more by the countries with the best war technology than by their number of soldiers. Will countries resort to poisoning water systems, destroying information systems, using poison gas, or using nuclear weapons?

Why Do We Fail to Attract Enough Volunteers?

In 1969, President Nixon appointed the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force (AVF). The distinguished Commission members published their report in February 1970 favoring the establishment of an AVF. In July 1, 1973, the implementation of AVF commenced.

As of September 2023, the reported active-duty troops included:

• 453k in the Army

• 332k in the Navy

• 318k in the Air Force

• 172k in the Marine Corps

• 8k in the Space Force

The Defense Department, after consultation, sets the targets for each military branch. In September 2023, three branches reported falling short of their annual recruitment goals.

Why has volunteering fallen off? Here are some of the reasons:

1. There was a smaller eligible population of persons who would qualify because of the effects of Covid and existing standards.

2. There was a decline in the propensity to serve. There were fewer military families, the loss of the Afghan war discouraged applicants, the political infighting led to less trust of institutions, and a growth of concerns and fears in joining in the military.

3. The economy was strong and promised better pay in the private sector.

4. Belief that the training would prove less useful in civilian work life.

5. Less civics education and old-fashioned patriotism.

6. Surveyed youth gave several reasons for not joining: the possibility of physical injury/death, possibility of PTSD or other emotional/psychological disorders; leaving family and friends; other strong career interests; too long a commitment, interference with college education; living in places they wouldn’t like, believing they wouldn’t qualify, and the fear of sexual harassment or assault.

What Steps Can the Military Take to Increase the Number of Volunteers?

Previous efforts to recruit enough soldiers often failed because the military had a poor understanding of potential recruits. The military didn’t realize that it needed to think like marketers, not military recruiters. Marketers would obtain a deeper understanding of the positive and negative factors, would segment the existing market to identify the best prospects and messages to send to them. The messages had to come from veterans who were pleased with their service and army life.

The Defense Department assigned the current task to a single individual who is in charge and reports directly to the Secretary of Defense. The following steps have been taken so far:

1. Adopt best practices from the private sector: use of social media, retirement plans, bonuses, focus on talent acquisition.

2. Encourage coordination, as opposed to competition, among the military branches.

3. Enlarge the pool of eligible volunteers, possibly by easing standards for eligibility, age, past drug use, etc.

4. Improve assignments, housing, health care, pay and pensions, and family support.

If the Military Fails to Attract Enough Volunteers, What Are the Other Alternatives?

If more troops are needed and the nation’s military continues to fail attracting enough volunteers, there are three drastic alternatives:

1. Reinstall a drafting system. Each state would list all eligible candidates and a monthly drawing would be held. Those whose names are drawn must give a strong excuse for being ineligible. The same names would never be drawn twice.

2. Pass a law that every citizen between 18 and 35 must give one or two years of service to the military. The following twenty — three countries require military service from its citizens: Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Israel, Brazil, Russia, North Korea, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Angola, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bermuda, Bolivia, and Cyprus.

3. Resort to paying mercenaries (as Russia did) to fulfill its military needs.

Clearly, these drastic alternatives would likely prove to be highly unattractive to American voters. The alternative is to find a better way to attract enough volunteers to fill the set quotas for the various branches of the military. Needless to say, that will require more funding, perhaps much more!

Note: Much obliged to notes by Professor Raymond Eugene Lombra (emeritus) Penn State.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)