The Pentagon, in a major expansion of its intelligence gathering activities, plans to assemble an espionage network rivaling the Central Intelligence Agency in size, The Washington Post reported.

Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper said that as part of the project, US military officials will send hundreds of additional spies overseas.

They also plan to overhaul the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which has focused primarily during the past decade on activities related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the expansion is complete, the DIA is expected to have as many as 1,600 intelligence "collectors" around the world -- a major step-up for an agency whose presence abroad has not exceeded triple-digits in recent years, the paper said.

The total includes military attaches and others who will not work undercover, The Post wrote.

But US officials told the daily that the plan also includes deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives to be trained by the CIA.

These new operatives are to work frequently with the US Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense, the paper said.

The Pentagon's top intelligence priorities are Islamist militant groups in Africa, weapons transfers by North Korea and Iran, and military modernization underway in China, the newspaper wrote.