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Capt. Ben Cohen, USMC

MS in Defense Systems Analysis & MS in Applied Design for Innovation ‘22

Captain Cohen was born in Seattle, WA and attended high school in Redmond, WA. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and initially served as a machine gunner in 1st Battalion, 4th Marines before being selected to join the Marine Reconnaissance community in 2006. Cohen served five years with the Force Reconnaissance Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. In 2011, he was assigned to Special Operations Training Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force where he served as the lead instructor for the Maritime Interdiction Operations program. He was accepted for a commissioning program in 2013 and attended The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduating in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in supply chain management, Cohen chose the logistics officer pathway and was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. After being selected to the Naval Postgraduate School in 2020, Cohen earned dual master degrees in Defense Systems Analysis and Applied Design for Innovation, graduating in June 2022. He is currently assigned to Marine Corps Installations Command - West as the Director of Emerging Technologies and the NavalX Southern California TechBridge Director.

"NPS can leverage the exceptional talent organic in the students, faculty, and staff with industry with unlimited iterations. Every year, 1,300+ students come into the school and bring fresh experience and passion for a more mature, educated, and lethal Naval force that can answer the nation's call. As a federal lab, NPS has all the right charters and authorities to create nontraditional partnerships with industry that can enable agile research and development."

What was the most impactful part of your studies at the Naval Postgraduate School? How has your NPS education impacted your current role as the Director of the SoCal Tech Bridge? How do you see it impacting your follow-on roles and assignments? 

The most impactful part of my studies was the realization of just how large and robust the innovation ecosystem of the DOD is. There are so many pathways, programs, and opportunities to exploit, the majority of which are relatively unseen by active-duty folks. The Applied Design for Innovation Curriculum really helped me develop a large, trustworthy network of great humans who want to make a difference and can enable myself and others to do so. When I became the Director of the NavalX SoCal Tech Bridge, I was certainly much better prepared for what lay ahead and I knew who to ask when I was unsure. But learning occurs every day and I am grateful for the opportunity to make any positive impact I can. So now I want to enable Marines and Sailors to make an impact in their own communities. 

How did your research at the Naval Postgraduate School serve as a foundation for the subsequent hybrid aircraft research, specifically related to the Zero Carbon Logistics Support Via Hybrid Aircraft project? In what ways did your NPS thesis contribute to shaping the direction and objectives of the current research efforts?

I think that we stumbled into this pathway, and while asking a lot of questions to a wide array of experts, we learned what better questions to ask. That led John and I to explore more of what was in the realm of the possible and push just beyond the initial “acquisitions focus” we have first settled on. In truth, our research was focused on designing an atlas to navigate the innovation ecosystem. Hybrid aircraft were just the use case, mostly because we thought they were just fun and uncommon. But the interest and support that we found around airships was actually amazing, and it drove us to dig deeper into the potential for these platforms.

Ultimately, there was a timely intersection of the recent push in the DOD to electrify many platforms in and around the battlefield. We realized that hybrid aircraft could go the same route, and that led to an interest in pursuing the work. NPS is the natural research partner in this, and we are really fortunate to have this support.

From your perspective, what potential advantages and opportunities does the Zero Carbon Logistics Support Via Hybrid Aircraft project bring to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps? How can this project enhance their operational capabilities and readiness in the Pacific and other distributed environments?  

This is one of the few platforms currently in development where the tactical level capabilities can have operational and even strategic level impacts. That’s not to say that we don’t currently have that in service, but this platform will be unique for three distinct reasons. First, it can land on most any relatively flat surface, including ice and water, which exponentially increases potential operational areas. Second, it is far more survivable and resilient than first glance would suggest and is challenging to target for a variety of reasons. And finally, it fills a very large gap in our current transportation capabilities. It's best to think of this platform as more of a fast ship than a slow aircraft. When you combine all of these elements, what you find is a relatively inexpensive, optionally manned platform that can provide our forces with an array of capabilities that are truly multi-domain. And that is not something we currently have much of. What this boils down to is that understanding that this platform can enable a whole new theory and employment of logistics assets, and that is what we are really excited to explore.

How will this collaboration with US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) enhance logistics, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations, and communications in the Pacific? 

It is imperative that our research and development on this project includes the INDOPACOM J4 logistics team. The research and development is built to specifically support the challenges faced by this combatant command. As much as possible, we want to avoid researching in a bubble, and so the learning objectives that INDOPACOM provides for our research goals here are critical. We need to know where INDOPACOM has gaps or vulnerabilities and provide an honest assessment of whether or not this platform can and will make a difference. And we will capitalize on NPS researchers to provide modeling and simulation analysis to support this.  

What is the significance of industry partnerships in driving innovation for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy? What role does NPS play in facilitating that collaboration for the DOD? What role does the SoCal Tech Bridge play?

There are so many great articles and white papers on this very subject. I see one or two a — in Defense One or War on the Rocks or Proceedings, to name a few. It is simply what must happen. The explosive growth of so many commercial sectors requires that the DOD take a new approach to industry partnerships, and I am seeing that happen. NPS can leverage the exceptional talent organic in the students, faculty, and staff with industry with unlimited iterations. Every year, 1,300+ students come into the school and bring fresh experience and passion for a more mature, educated, and lethal Naval force that can answer the nation's call. As a federal lab, NPS has all the right charters and authorities to create nontraditional partnerships with industry that can enable agile research and development.

The SoCal Tech Bridge is expanding, and I am excited to stay on as one of the Co-Directors, alongside some incredible folks. The Tech Bridge will be the outward facing component of our end users, continuing to serve as a bridge and connector between the fleet forces and the industrial sector. We want to provide transparency, continuity, and discipline to the innovation operations of the Naval forces. Serving as a connector and facilitator for our Marines and Sailors will be my focus every day.

How does the collaboration with HAV exemplify the potential of industry partnerships in leveraging cutting-edge commercial technologies for defense challenges? 

There are great collaborative opportunities like this happening across the DOD and each of them is a good case study in itself. Collaborative efforts like this are critical as the DOD grapples with some of the serious challenges related to the current state of military industrial complex. I think that this research work with HAV is really an excellent example of how seemingly small-scale efforts can have tangible impacts and how important it is for DOD leadership to continue supporting them. Innovation, in my opinion, has more to do with understanding the culture of the targeted end-user than it does with technology itself. And culture is very hard to quantify and measure. So, this research effort has highlighted how early collaboration with industry can support an effective fusion of technology, requirements, and culture. Our early engagement with INDOPACOM gave us an understanding of the reception that we would face and how to then work a narrative of the research that met the needs of each community we would interact with. Listen to, and immerse yourself in, your customer and your product will evolve on its own. And that’s what I believe is happening with this next research effort.

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