By Idrees Ali and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing Co executive, as his defence secretary, the White House said on Thursday, breaking with tradition by choosing someone who made a career at a top defence company as Pentagon chief.
Shanahan had been under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general for allegedly seeking preferential treatment of Boeing while at the Defense Department but he was cleared of wrongdoing in April. He has been acting defence secretary since January.
"Based upon his outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the secretary of defence," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Shanahan said in a statement that he was "committed to modernizing" the U.S. military forces and if confirmed would aggressively implement Trump's national defence strategy.
Shanahan, 56, was thrust into the role in an acting capacity in January, after Jim Mattis abruptly resigned over policy differences with Trump.
If confirmed to the top job by the Senate, he would take charge of the U.S. military at a time when it is shifting its focus towards Russia and China after more than a decade and a half of concentrating heavily on the fight against Islamist militants.
On his first day as acting Pentagon chief in January, Shanahan told civilian leaders of the U.S. military to focus on "China, China, China."
The Trump administration has announced its intention to withdraw most U.S. troops from Syria and diplomatic efforts are underway to bring an end to the 17-year-old war Afghanistan, although tensions with both Iran and North Korea are growing.
Shanahan is expected to be confirmed by senators, though he could face a tough confirmation process because of his tenure at Boeing.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Idrees Ali; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech and Alistair Bell)