A fixed-price contract is a contract where the amount of payment does not depend on the amount of resources or time expended, as opposed to a cost-plus contract which is intended to cover the costs plus some amount of profit. Such a scheme is often used in military and government contractors to put the risk on the side of the vendor, and control costs. However, historically when such contracts are used for innovative new projects with untested or undeveloped technologies, such as new military transports or stealth attack planes, it can and often results in a failure if costs greatly exceed the ability of the contractor to absorb unforeseen cost overruns.
Fixed prices can require more time, in advance, for sellers to determine the price of each item. However, the fixed-price items can each be purchased faster, but bargaining could set the price for an entire set of items being purchased, reducing the time for such bulk purchases treated as a whole batch. Also, fixed-price items can help in pre-determining the value of the entire inventory, such as for insurance estimates.
However, such contracts continue to be popular despite a history of failed or troubled projects, though they tend to work when costs are well known in advance. Some laws have been written which prefer fixed-price contracts, however, many maintain that such contracts are actually the most expensive, especially when the risks or costs are unknown.
Airbus's German chief executive Tom Enders has noted the fixed-price contract for the A400M transport aircraft was a disaster rooted in naivety, excessive enthusiasm and arrogance, stating, "If you had offered it to an American defence contractor like Northrop, they would have run a mile from it". He stated that unless the contract was renegotiated, the project must be abandoned.
A-12 Avenger II
The U.S. A-12 Avenger II development contract was a fixed-price incentive contract, not a fixed price contract, with a target price of $4.38 billion and ceiling price of $4.84 billion. It was to be a unique, stealthy, flying wing design. On 7 January 1991, the Secretary of Defense canceled the program. It was the largest contract termination in DoD history. Rather than saving costs, the craft was projected to consume up 70 percent of the U.S. Navy's aircraft budget within three years.
Allan, B. (2004). Project management. 1st ed. London: Facet.