ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Army will consolidate 21,000 soldiers in its cyber warfare units under a new unified command led by a three-star general, the Pentagon announced Friday.

The move is the latest architectural step in establishing the parent U.S. Cyber Command structure, which is tasked with protecting the nation’s vast military and civilian computer networks.

“Given our increasing dependency on cyberspace, this new command will bring together the resources of the department to address vulnerabilities and meet the ever-growing array of cyber threats to our military systems,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about U.S. CYBERCOM.

The Army Forces Cyber Command will be fully operational by October at Fort Belvoir, Va., a sprawling base south of Washington. It will bring “unprecedented unity of effort and synchronization of Army forces operating within the cyber domain,” a Defense Department statement said. The three-star general in charge has yet to be named.

The new command, ARFORCYBER, will take operational control of cyber-related portions of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command. Some other shifting units include the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command and part of the 1st Information Operations Command.

U.S. CYBERCOM is a sub-unified command under U.S. Strategic Command, of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. But it will be run out of the super-secretive communications-gathering National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md.

Congress confirmed existing NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander as CYBERCOM commander earlier this month. Gates on Friday pinned a fourth star onto Alexander, who will also continue as head of the NSA.

Army Forces Cyber Command will be located in the intelligence and security command building at Fort Belvoir.

“Along with that, we’re taking a look at how we change the culture within the Army,” said Maj. General Steven Smith, the Army’s chief cyber officer, “... trying to understand what a cyber warrior should be, and how they should be trained.”

Smith said that future Army commanders increasingly would rely on networks for simultaneous planning between services and partner nations during invasions, with fewer support elements in tow.

“So we are working very diligently with our commanders, top-to-bottom, inside out,” Smith said, “to help them identify what their key systems are, and how well those are protected. And how will you know when you’re under a cyber attack, and what are your processes, techniques, tactics and procedures for working through that.”

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