In practice, it is often hard to tell the difference between “far ahead of the competition” and “off on a weird tangent”. You could make the case that NASA is 50 years ahead of the competition in manned lunar space travel, and at the time being ahead of the Soviets was a huge part of the appeal. But over time manned space travel was all but abandoned because there didn’t seem to be enough value in it. The USAF is in a similar position with stealth aircraft; competing countries never heavily invested in stealth and radar improvements have made it increasingly obsolete.
If you’re three years ahead of intelligent, well-funded competition, they may be waiting to see if the game is worth the ante.