WASHINGTON — An Air Force program to provide F-15Cs and F-15Es with a new electronic warfare suite is moving forward to the engineering, development and manufacturing phase.

The service on Thursday awarded Boeing a $478 million contract for the next stage of the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS) program. During the EMD phase, which will last until 2020, the company will further develop the EPAWSS design and conduct risk reduction, the Pentagon said in a contracting announcement.

Boeing will also be responsible for building EPAWSS systems that will be used for laboratory testing and then integrated with eight F-15 aircraft for flight tests scheduled for late 2018, company spokesperson Randy Jackson told Defense News.

More than 400 F-15C and F-15Es are set to receive EPAWSS. Boeing was selected last year as the prime contractor on the program, with subcontractor BAE Systems helping to develop the technology.

According to BAE, EPAWSS is an all digital-electronic warfare suite that will improve the F-15's situational awareness and provide aircraft protection in contested environments using advanced electronic countermeasures, radar warning, and increased chaff and flare capability. The system will replace the F-15 Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite in use since the 1980s.

EPAWSS is a key element of the upgrades Boeing has proposed in an effort to keep the F-15C a viable air superiority fighter until at least 2040, and one of the few that has materialized into a program of record. In briefings September 2015, company officials positioned the F-15C as a platform that could augment the smaller F-22 force, which numbers only 187 operational aircraft, until the so-called Penetrating Counter Air fighter jet comes into being.

Col. Robert Novotny, then the commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England, told Defense News in July that he would like the to see F-15s adopt ever more sophisticated technologies. Asked what capabilities he would like to see integrated, he called out EPAWSS in particular as an especially vital upgrade.

"There are some great mods that are out there, like EPAWSS," he said. "We want EPAWSS on all our F-15s, but everybody that is in this business knows they want EPAWSS. It’s high on the list."