WASHINGTON — New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to stop production of a controversial new medal pending a 30-day study of whether the award for drone pilots and cyber warriors should outrank medals given for battlefield bravery.

The Distinguished Warfare Medal, approved by former secretary Leon Panetta during his final days in office last month, was criticized by members of Congress and veterans groups because it was ranked above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in the military’s order of precedence.

A letter from the Senate’s top two leaders on military affairs asking Hagel to reconsider was waiting on his desk when he returned Monday from a trip to Afghanistan. He made the decision Monday evening, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity before an official announcement planned Tuesday afternoon.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jim Inhofe R-Okla., wrote that they were “supportive of the new medal,” but were concerned “that it is given precedence above awards earned by service members for actions on the battlefield.”

They said Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts as an enlisted combat soldier serving in Vietnam, should appreciate the morale problem the ranking would probably cause.

“Hagel’s obviously new, and he’s going to take a fresh look,” the defense official said.

The official said Hagel had placed Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in charge of the review and asked him to report back in 30 days.

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