TOP 100: KBR lays out its innovation and business agenda

The exterior of KBR's global headquarters in Houston.

The exterior of KBR's global headquarters in Houston. Courtesy of KBR.

The president of company No. 17's U.S. government business highlights space and the AUKUS security partnership as priorities and avenues for continued growth.

Over the past few years, KBR has largely turned the lens of its government business on organic growth after a handful of big-ticket acquisitions to help lay down a foundation for the future.

Also along the way, KBR looked and continues to look for opportunities where its government and commercial teams can come together on thinking about what's next in technology.

"On the commercial side of the equation, our customers are really about cost efficiency, speed to market, and operating better and safer," said Byron Bright, president of KBR's U.S. government solutions business. "Often times they're cost constrained, and so it's on K B R to make those investments help them make their businesses run better. On the government side, often times the government is paying for those innovations."

KBR hits the No. 17 position for our 2024 Top 100 rankings, with $3 billion in unclassified prime obligations for tech and professional services.

Bright was one of several KBR executives to speak at the company's May 8 Investor Day presentation to tell the story of business growth and technology innovation, which helped provide a backdrop for our conversation with him.

He told us that KBR brought out some of its creations to the foyer of the New York Stock Exchange with the goal of providing investors a first-hand glimpse at how they work for government clients.

Artificial intelligence, autonomy, cybersecurity, data analytics and digital engineering represent the subset of technology accelerators that KBR presented at the Investor Day event focused on the corporation's long-term vision and strategy.

One example of how those priority areas come together can be seen in Iron Stallion, a space domain awareness platform KBR has worked in partnership with the government on over the past decade. The platform now resides in a cloud environment and is converted for commercialization, Bright said.

Iron Stallion works to track everything in space and run predictive models both on where assets are supposed to be and flag users when the reverse is the case.

Or this way Bright described it in a series of questions:

"Is that an enemy? What is that? Is it a threat? Why is it flying so close to our satellites? It wasn't doing that last week. Where is it going to go next?"

"We're able to start to do 'what ifs' and scenario planning," Bright added.

The U.S. is not the only government collective that has taken an interest in Iron Stallion. Bright told us that KBR has "just recently" sold the platform to the U.K. and Australia.

KBR's footing in those three countries also means it is paying particularly close attention to AUKUS -- the trilateral security arrangement that the governments of Australia, the U.K. and U.S. all signed onto in September 2021.

AUKUS is all about enhancing security in the Indo-Pacific region with Australia being the focal point for much of the alliance's activity, given that country's proximity to China and Taiwan.

The arrangement has three key pillars with the first one being focused on helping Australia get nuclear submarines, which KBR obviously does not build themselves, but is poised to still have some work in.

Bright said that KBR's Frazier-Nash consulting business is engaged in the early stage aspect of nuclear safety assurance.

Pillar two of AUKUS centers around helping the member countries develop advanced tech capabilities in areas such as electronic warfare, command and control, artificial intelligence and more in the realm of software.

"If you're going to have nuclear submarines, you've got to able to have secure communications, you've got to have radars and sensors, you've got to have all the other weapons that go around them," Bright said.

All of those involved in AUKUS are also looking at how to loosen some of the technology transfer barriers in place with the goal of making this alliance all that the three partners want it to be.

"This is very much a government-to-government discussion at this stage and we're just now starting to see real procurements come out related to some of the various needs," Bright said.

For instance, the three AUKUS member countries are looking at using space as a means to achieve command-and-control of their submarines. Going back to Iron Stallion: KBR sold a license to Australia for the purpose of helping them have C2 of submarines as a sovereign capability.

As Bright and KBR see things, examples like the above can be looked at as something for AUKUS to build off of.

"One of (our) unique aspects is that we have a business in the UK, a business in the Australia and a business in the U.S., and can really help that government-to-government discussion about what are some of the barriers for industry to bring their innovation," Bright said. "That's what we're working on today."

(A future episode of our WT 360 podcast will present the full conversation with Bright)