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So, I was working on my setting when I thought, "if I'm going for maximum JRPG feeling, I need several teenager protagonists, who somehow still stand a chance against the armies of Darkness."

Stealing some ideas from F.E.A.R, I came up with the replicas, supersoldiers that though having some levels of personality, are controlled by a psionic commander and "Would You Kindly". But, why would they all be teenagers (16-19 yrs old, to be exact)?

They stop aging after a point and are biologically immortal because they are still just consumable products, nobody needs planned obsolesce on top of that.

Replicas are designed for modern-day combat, especially special operations, and to be deployed in any environment.

Keeping these in mind, I'm looking for a valid reason for them to stop aging at biologically 16-19, one that either confers logistical or combat advantages over other age categories. More significant and less circumstantial advantages are preferred.

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    $\begingroup$ If your super soldier are human males you probably want them closer to 19 than to 16 years. (Actually, 20 to 24 years of age would be significantly better, but 19 would do in a pinch.) A 16 year old human male is far from being fully developed both physically and mentally. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 26 '19 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ Why are X? is generally off-topic as primarily opinion-based. Your judgment conditions are vague. Rather than risk closure, can you do better? What, specifically, would make a best answer? How will you judge between "the DNA encoding was designed to stop at physical maturity" and "no super soldier has ever lived beyond age 19 due to harsh combat conditions"? That second example may not reflect your intent, but as written, it's a valid answer to your Q. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '19 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Had you listened, you would know that the two judgement factors are the significance of the given tactical/logistical advantage and its chances of coming into play. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '19 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles, had you listened, you would know that those two factors are vague and primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '19 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ I'm confused. Are you trying to come up with a valid reason for your characters to be immortals who just LOOK like they're teenagers, or do you want them to actually BE teenagers and have a valid reason why they're doing the fighting instead of older, more experienced soldiers? $\endgroup$ Feb 26 '19 at 21:38
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16 to 19 years is a developmental phase for the brain and body. This gives them to be as smart as possible compared to younger ages but still controllable by their handlers with ideologies and fear-mongering (enemies be bad need a lesson). People (mostly men) at this age are more susceptible to performing violence for causes, and keeping their body pumping the right hormones will keep them pliable.

Additional advantage is the relative adaptability of the body at that age. Earlier ages give higher adaptability of the muscles, tendons and skeleton to training but you arent as developed.

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  • $\begingroup$ All of this seems completely at odds with established facts. 16-19 year olds are not "as smart as possible" (although it's impossible to convince a teenager of that). It's worth noting that special forces groups tend to be early to mid twenties starting and this would be considered optimal both in terms of experience, potential development and capability. Armies have the choice and they pick this age range for entry with few exceptions. $\endgroup$
    – StephenG
    Feb 26 '19 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG You're not wrong, but how much of that is because that's the ideal age, and how much because in countries with elite armed forces, people don't enter them until around age 18? If they could enter at, say, 14, would the peak age still be mid twenties, or late teens? $\endgroup$
    – nasch
    Feb 27 '19 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG yes that sentence is misleading, I meant "as smart as possible without them being controllable". Which seems counter-intuitive as people that age seem to try to be independent by breakibg off from their parents. Yet that streak of independence anf willing to fight for it is what you could steer them with. Its always easier to send young people to War than older people... $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 27 '19 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ Made a typo in the comment, meant "WITH them being controllable". Any older and they do get smarter but also less susceptible to control. Edited the question. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 27 '19 at 6:18
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So my answer is largely from Karl Marlantes' 'What it's like to go to war', which covers a lot of the philosophy behind war, including why society sends younger men instead of old. (I very much recommend this book as a side note, it definitely gives a lot of useful insights to this topic)

One of the main advantages, at least tn Marlantes' view, is that young adults (men primarily) are psychologically better suited to fight a war. Sending off someone to fight and potentially kill people they've never met is difficult, and young men have certain advantages.

Young men, being full of hormones, are significantly easier to train to do this as it's easier to instill an 'us vs them' mentality, group loyalty, and a disdain for the enemy without having met them. Being able to tap in to controlled aggression as a 19 year old is a significant advantage from a soldiering perspective when in combat, as it makes men more willing to advance in combat. Once a man reaches 25 or so, he's less hormonal and has reached more of a level of emotional maturity and is more likely to question why he's fighting and killing these people who probably aren't very different from him.

One of the biggest psychological aspects is probably that younger people have a reduced sense of mortality- they often (sometimes subconsciously) justify death as something that isn't going to happen to them, whereas a 25 year old may still think of everything he has to live for in a battle and be more hesitant to do his job.

Finally, it's a lot easier to mold a 16 or 18 year old, compared to a 25 year old. You need to break a person down and build them back up in order to become an effective soldier- once they are 25 or so they've already developed a strong sense of individual identity so this is much harder.

One counterpoint is that this viewpoint lies in exploiting the immaturity of 16-19 year olds. The role of a special forces operative is definitely different to that of a traditional soldier, and is better suited to people who are a bit older, more independent and more mature. So it comes down to whether you want your supersoldiers to be mainly really effective infantry (think Spartans from HALO), or real life special forces like Green Berets who have to use a lot more independence in how they approach a task.

On top of this, you have the physical aspect. While a 16 year old may not be as strong as a 25 year old, their body is much better suited to recovery, and after all fighting a war exacts a pretty big physical toll on people. Being able to recover quickly after a long march or battle or carry kit for extended periods makes them a lot more effective.

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They hadn't had time to age yet

Perhaps your story doesn't neccessarily need them to be teenagers forever, it's sufficient for them to be teenagers just now, for the duration of the story.

Let's say that the current system for breeding UltraSuperSoldiers was developed 17 years ago, and that's when the oldest production batch of them was made. There are some pre-production prototypes which were engineered/born 18-19 years ago. As they mature a bit faster than normal humans, they're considered "ready for action" at the age 15, so the younger clones are still in the breeding/training facilities and not part of the action.

So, at the moment, UltraSuperSoldiers are a thing for quite some time already but they're currently all teenagers. There's a bunch of 20-30 year old JustBarelySuperSoldiers, but the new UltraSuperSoldiers are so much better that the old guys are obsolete.

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    $\begingroup$ ...and because of the super duper dangerous existential threat the deciders have no choice but to send these kids into combat even though they aren't mentally mature enough for it yet. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Feb 27 '19 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ This was my first thought on reading the question. +1 $\endgroup$ Mar 4 '19 at 21:53
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A simple solution that I can think of is this:

The supersoldiers don't age at all. They grow and develop, yes. But the aging process has been engineered out of them.

The result of this would be that upon reaching biological adulthood somewhere between 16 and 20, individuals will remain fresh-faced and ageless in perpetuity.

I guess the thing to note here is that aging and growth are two different processes that are normally happening in parallel, so we tend to equate one with the other. There is no reason that this need be the case in an engineered human.

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The most likely reason? Because life expectancy extension is one of the very first genetic modifications that would even be approved for use on the general population and the super soldier package is being built on that base. They're going to be ageless because that's trend for everyone in their generation.

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Time to market.

If you send your clones to battle at the age of four years old... You won't be very marketable. Send them when they are 60 and they are no good anymore.

16-19 is just the best age when it comes to balancing out plasticity (they have a lot of room to improve), calorie needs, healing capacity and remaining lifetime in peak condition. All those will keep stable until around 21, give or take a couple years, and then will decline ever quicker. Keeping them at peak after that will require more and more maintenance and physical activity.

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The immortality biological mechanism is induced by sex hormones.

You want them to be born, grow up, and then stop aging after they are grownups. A sign that someone is a grownup is that the person has gone through puberty. Puberty is produced by sex hormones ramping up.

You clones induce their biological immortality mechanism via sex hormones. Like other secondary sex characteristics (beard, public hair, breasts, wide hips), immortality comes on line with puberty and so aging stops at the end of puberty.

There is no combat or logistic advantage to this, only ease of genetic engineering. But it might make for fun ramifications for your story. If you are inclined to biology geekout, here is a consequence that might be interesting - if one of your super soldiers loses the ability to produce sex hormones for any reason he or she will also start to age. Also, the bioengineers might have thought only about combat and not planned that a super soldier might get pregnant. What will pregnancy-level doses of sex hormones do to the immortality mechanism?

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The super soldiers are considered ready for combat at age 16, and rarely survive past age 19.

The analysts found out that age 16 is the point at which further training does not lead to any further improvements in combat performance which would warrant the cost, so they decided that 16 is the age when they get send into battle.

The soldiers are usually used for frontline combat against extremely dangerous enemies, and they are conditioned to be willing to sacrifice their lifes for the mission. So they have a very high mortality rate. For that reason it is very statistically unlikely for them to survive for more than three years. Any supersoldier over 20 is either extremely lucky or a coward.

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