MOSCOW — Along with a steady flow of new missiles, planes and tanks, Russia’s defense minister said Wednesday his nation also has built up its muscle by forming a new branch of the military – information warfare troops.

Sergei Shoigu’s statement – which came amid Western allegations of Russian hacking – marked the first official acknowledgement of the existence of such forces.

Speaking to parliament, Shoigu said that the military received a sweeping array of new weapons last year, including 41 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

He added the wide-ranging military modernization will continue this year, with the air force set to receive 170 new aircraft. The army will receive 905 tanks and the navy will receive 17 new ships.

Also this year, three regiments of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces will receive new intercontinental ballistic missiles, Shoigu said. The rising number of new weapons has raised demands for new personnel. Shoigu said the military currently needs 1,300 more pilots by 2018.

Declaring the formation of the dedicated information warfare troops, Shoigu noted that “propaganda needs to be clever, smart and efficient.” He wouldn’t describe the troops’ mission.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the head of defense affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, was equally vague, saying that the information warfare troops’ task is to “protect the national defense interests and engage in information warfare,” according to the Interfax news agency. He added that part of their mission is to fend off enemy cyberattacks.

Viktor Ozerov, the head of the upper house’s defense and security committee, also told Interfax that the information troops will protect Russia’s data systems from enemy attacks, not wage any hacking attacks abroad.

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking Democratic emails to meddle in the U.S. election, a claim Moscow has denied. Some EU officials also voiced concern the Kremlin could seek to influence this year’s elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.