The US Senate has voted to confirm Chuck Hagel to be the next US defence secretary.

The vote on Tuesday was 58-41, with four Republicans joining Democrats in backing President Barack Obama's nominee.

The vote ended a contentious fight over the president's choice for his second-term national security team.

Hagel will succeed Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief.

The vote came just hours after Republicans dropped their delay and allowed the nomination to move forward.

The Senate voted 71-27 on Tuesday to end the debate and move forward, almost two weeks after Republicans launched a filibuster to block Hagel's nomination.

It was the first time such a procedural tactic had been used to delay consideration of a nominee for secretary of defence.

Many Republicans have fiercely opposed Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who angered party leaders when he criticised former President George W Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

Some have also raised questions about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran.

But Democrats stood together for Hagel, a twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran.