You wouldn’t think a company that just told Wall Street it will deliver over 800 jetliners this year would assign top priority to winning a Navy program aimed at buying a mere 76 unmanned aircraft, but that’s what Boeing has done. The world’s biggest aerospace company has decided the carrier-based MQ-25 drone is the beginning of a revolution in naval aviation, and it is determined to be on board.

MQ-25, popularly known as the Stingray, is the latest in a series of Navy efforts aimed at investigating how unmanned aircraft might be integrated into the air wings that fly off of its supercarriers. Large-deck aircraft carriers are the signature combat system of the joint force, and the Navy has been experimenting for two decades with ways in which drones might make its aviation arm more lethal, survivable and versatile. Now it thinks it has the answer: an aerial refueling drone that can extend the reach of carrier-based aircraft by hundreds of miles.

The basic idea is that MQ-25, carrying 15,000 pounds of fuel, would rendezvous with carrier-based fighters and jamming aircraft at the outer edge of their combat radius, giving them the legs to fly much further — maybe up to a thousand nautical miles from the carrier. This has major operational benefits. First, it enables the carrier to stay far away from hostile forces. Second, it frees up fighters currently used for aerial refueling to do other combat missions. Third, it provides a long-endurance drone that can also be used for collecting reconnaissance.

Boeing released this head-on view of its proposed MQ-25 drone design in December.