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The Fast Follower: Coming Up Behind Development Leaders

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Journal Article

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Defense Acquisition University Fort Belvoir United States

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Lets face it In many technical domains, the Department of Defense DoD no longer is the worlds leader.DoD often finds itself on the outside looking in at many of the latest technical advances after losing its place as the dominant tech customer. DoD faces a shrinking defense industrial base and a more global tech marketplace and competes with the rise of consumer electronics that have short product life cycles.Since the end of World War II, the United States has relied greatly upon technical solutions to fight and win across the battle space. In view of our current shrinking defense budgets, the rise of competitors that possess keen technical proficiency and the globalization of the worlds tech base, how does the DoD maintain its historic technical competitive advantage For some technical domains, it may be time to consider alternative strategies in researching, developing and fielding the latest technical capabilities. One approach is to adopt the fast-follower strategy. The Perils of Being FirstConsider the first pioneers and explorers. After years seeking government or royal patronage, the trailblazers mounted expensive expeditions of men, ships, wagons, etc., and set off on an uncharted course in search of a vaguely defined goal. After enduring great risk, expense and hardship they regularly fell far short of their objectiveface down with arrows in their backs or adrift in a sea of ice, gnawing on their leather belts. In exploring for new technical solutions, researchers spend a great deal of time seeking sponsorship, building specialized infrastructure and, after years or decades of repeated failure and risk, may or may not have developed a technology that will add capability to our warfighters. They also frequently are challenged to calculate and justify the return on their sponsors investment.

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