Boeing has named Dennis Muilenburg, the current leader of the company’s defense arm, as vice chairman, president and chief operating officer, paving the way for the 49-year-old executive’s eventual move to potentially succeed Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney.

The leadership reshuffle sees two top executives advance to the level of vice chairmen, the appointment of a company president and chief operating officer and the naming of new leaders for Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Boeing Military Aircraft.

Muilenburg’s promotion, which marks the first time Boeing has created a senior operations executive under McNerney’s watch, sees the former defense leader move to Boeing’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, where he will share oversight of the company’s overall operations. Christopher Chadwick, the current Boeing Military Aircraft president, meanwhile replaces Muilenburg as leader of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. Shelley Lavender, who is vice president and general manager of Integrated Logistics for the Global Services & Support business, replaces Chadwick.

Ray Conner, who has led the company’s commercial sector since mid-2012, has been promoted to vice chairman, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He will remain in Seattle. Boeing adds that “in their new roles as corporate vice chairmen, Conner and Muilenburg will join with McNerney in managing a number of core Boeing corporate processes and activities, and in continuing to drive seamless One Boeing strategies and execution across the enterprise.”

Reacting to Muilenburg’s appointment, investment analysts firm Jeffries says, “We consider him the most likely candidate to succeed McNerney. We expect this transition to run into 2016. We continue to believe the company has a deep bench of technical talent and these promotions reflect a considered approach to planning for the future.” Robert Stallard, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, says the “promotions signal to us that Muilenburg is the anointed heir apparent — though it could be a couple of years before he actually gets promoted to the top slot.” Stallard adds that McNerney’s departure is not thought to be imminent.