The Indian Navy said on Friday that A MiG-29K fighter aircraft had crashed into the Arabian sea, and while one pilot has been rescued, a search operation is on for the second, who went missing after the incident. This is the third accident involving the MiG-29K aircraft in the last one year. A MiG-29K twin-seat fighter aircraft had crashed in South Goa district in November last year and both the pilots had ejected safely. Another MiG-29K crashed into the Arabian Sea off the Goa coast on February 23 this year.
Russian made MiG-29 fighter has been with the Indian Air Force (IAF) for over three decades and is still considered a formidable fighter. Compared to MiG-21 and MiG-27, the MiG-29's operational record is good. MiG-29 was developed by the Mikoyan design bureau, Russia as an air superiority fighter during the 1970s. Though designed for combat, MiG-29s have been served as multi-role fighters capable of performing a number of different operations. 

According to the information available in the public domain, the IAF currently has around eleven squadrons of the Su-30MKI, three each of the MiG-29 and Mirage-2000, six of the Jaguar and six of the MiG-21. The MiG-27 and the MiG-21 are one of the the oldest in the IAF inventory. The MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons have been in decline and the MiG-23 has been phased out completely. The IAF will phase out nine squadrons of the MiG-21 and 2 MiG-27 over the next 5 years. 

Indian Air Force is in advance talks with Russia for an urgent procurement of MiG 29 fighters that can be delivered at a relatively short notice. The plan to acquire 21 additional aircraft to make a new squadron of MiG-29 jets that were first purchased in the 1980s has been discussed in detail last month and is expected to cost the Indian exchequer less than Rs. 6,000 crore. The MiG-29s, if procured, will cost significantly lesser than the Rafale fighter jets. 

According to the defence ministry, the upgraded aircraft are now being used for routine operations in frontline squadrons and are equipped with the "state-of-the-art avionics, an array of smart air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and in-flight refuelling". 

The MiG-29 Fulcrum was the first Russian fourth-generation jet fighter, marked by its sleek and deadly appearance in contrast to earlier Soviet fighters. The fast and agile Fulcrum could outturn any NATO fighter, and it was armed with cutting-edge missiles. But, alas, it was held back by its old-fashioned electronics, short service life and limited range. The jets will remain in service for some time, however, as recent upgraded versions partially redress some of its shortcomings writes S├ębastien Roblin in a report

Intrinsic design limitations of the MiG-29 have prevented it from aging well. 

While aerodynamically outstanding, the MiG-29 did not feature modern pilot displays, controls and fly-by-wire avionics. Fulcrum pilots were required to stare down at their cockpit instruments far more than those of Western fighters with modern Head’s Up Displays, and the throttle was not integrated into the stick. 

The MiG-29’s sensors were mediocre—its N019 Phazotron pulse-doppler radar had a shorter accurate range (thirty-eight miles) than the missiles the MiG-29 carried. Though equipped with an infrared sensor (IRST), pilots reported it to be of limited effectiveness. 

These limitations in part reflected Soviet doctrine in which pilots were intended to be closely directed by ground controllers, so their situation awareness was less of a priority. The lack of modern electronics was what ultimately led the German Air Force to retire its Fulcrums (which were a part of the assets transitioned from the GDR Air Force), despite being more agile than their western fighters such as F-4s and Tornados.

Another major limitation is the MiG-29’s limited range of less than nine hundred miles on internal fuel and lack of inflight refuelling ability—making it primarily useful as a defensive fighter, or one operating above frontline forces. While the Fulcrum may be a bargain for a less wealthy country worried about conflict on its borders, it has less appeal to air forces looking to project power over distance.

Finally, like most Soviet-era fighters, while the MiG was designed to withstand rugged handling, it wasn’t intended to have a long service life—just two thousand five hundred hours compared to the six thousand that is typical of U.S. fighters. MiG-29 airframes deteriorated rapidly later in life, and have required extensive and expensive maintenance to keep flying as is being experienced by Indian armed forces. Malaysia once reported it spent $5 million per year per MiG-29 to keep them flyable. In 2008, Algeria rejected a batch of thirty-four SMTs as they used old airframes in poor condition rather than newly produced ones stipulated in the contract.

In a shocking revelation, during an interaction this author had with Naval officers during the last edition of Aero India said that parts were simply falling off MiG-29s parked on the deck of INS Vikramaditya.

Despite its popularity, the design has been considered to have some significant flaws and has seen a fickle combat record. Moscow's Fulcrum was a high-tech plane but it's service life was too short, raising costs. Moreover, the MiG-29 would soon become out-of-date anyway. A short lifespan. As India attempts to buy more of these flawed jets, it begs the question: Should India consider advanced western origin jets than continue with Russian technology?