A member of the Fourth Generation of the Army, Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Albert “Buck” Elton saw the defense from within. He has held a wide range of roles, from military pilot to commanding general of Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan.
Today, Elton has engaged as a strategic advisor to Avantus Federal, a NewSpring Holdings Co., to support the company’s efforts to provide essential technical capabilities to the fighter.
WashingtonExec met with Elton to talk about the changing defense landscape and how the GovCon community can most effectively support the missions of the national security and intelligence community.
Based on your extensive military experience, what does the military need from the entrepreneurial community?
My combat deployments in Afghanistan in particular have shown me how valuable contractors are to the mission. The most effective companies were those that were fully integrated with us. The collaborative relationships between DOD elements and our contractual partners were the best and most effective relationships.
In these relationships, subcontractors don’t just provide services based on their track record, providing additional manpower. They liaise with their home units or businesses. They bring unique insight into what their businesses can deliver. You have a quick turnover on the military side, and the contractors bring a much needed sense of continuity.
What is the biggest challenge facing the defense community today?
The nation is moving away from 20 years of counterterrorism, nation-building and protracted conflict. We are moving towards what the national defense strategy calls the “competition of the great powers”.
There is a lot of potential overlap between what we have learned in the counterterrorism effort and the emerging new strategy. The challenge is to make sure that we don’t lose those relationships that we have developed, that we are able to apply emerging technologies that are applicable to these two different sets of missions.
How does Avantus tackle this problem?
As a mission-focused organization, Avantus specializes in data, cyber and space capabilities. We have done a tremendous amount of work to support the national security landscape, with the intelligence community and [the Department of]Homeland Security, along with various elements of defense, with the aim of leveraging our domain and technical expertise, helping them use data to execute results.
In terms of supporting the military’s strategic transition, we can help drive data engineering, rapid deployment of data applications. This is what will help the military make the switch, as it allows them to make sense of various data pools that are in different classifications or on different networks that do not necessarily communicate with each other. We can help make this data useful, apply augmented intelligence and machine learning to support better decision making.
How will you personally work to support this effort?
With my recent experience in the United States Special Operations Command, I can help build a broader and lasting partnership between Avantus and SOCOM, as well as other military and intelligence organizations.
Trust and trust are so important in this market. Military culture relies to some extent on a relationship of trusted partners, where there is a shared awareness and shared understanding of the direction in which you are heading. Because I know what the requirements are on the military side, and because I know the culture in Avantus, I think I can be a bridge to that.
Avantus relies heavily on what you described as “integrated talent management”. How does it work and why is it important?
This means that talent management is built into everything the business does. It’s about investing in people – training and education, mentoring, career development. It’s about caring for employees and developing the best people possible to meet the needs of our customers.
In SOCOM, we would make it clear that people are more important than material. You have to invest in people to be successful in your mission. Before coming to Avantus, I didn’t really know that there were companies that also valued this approach with the same intensity.
How can DOD work more effectively with its GovCon partners?
Defense needs to reach out to the commercial technology sector to take advantage of its innovations, as DOD simply cannot innovate fast enough. They must empower people at lower levels to make decisions, so that the organization can accept intelligent risks.
Defense can partner with industry to quickly advance technology. This is really the way to get the most out of their business technology partners.
What is the biggest business challenge Avantus faces and how are you responding to it?
It is the same passage from counter-terrorism to a competition of the great powers. The environment is changing and we need to consider how the military can best use our technologies to compete with countries like Russia and China. We are working to develop in these emerging areas. This is a key opportunity for us.
What does this job mean to you personally?
It’s really about continuing to serve the nation. I decided early on that I was going to commit my career and my life to military service. Now that I have made the transition to this new environment, I have the ability to continue to serve – from a different perspective and with a different approach.