Message To 'Mad Dog' Mattis - Prepare For Digital Warfare

I assume Marine General James "Mad Dog" Mattis will be confirmed as Secretary of Defense and I believe he is a good choice. Mattis is both a combat-tested warrior and a well-read scholar. He will need all of his experience, knowledge and wisdom to lead our defense establishment into the new era under a President who is critical of runaway military spending.

The key to Mattis's success lies in understanding that the true military challenge facing us today lies not in aircraft carrier groups, advanced fighter planes, heavy tanks or even drones - though they all have a role to play. Rather the core national security challenge facing us is to achieve digital dominance over our foes and potential foes.

Gilman Louie, founder and former CEO of In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm, has written an open letter to Mattis describing this challenge and laying out a proposed course of action that should influence Mattis's agenda. "The world has gone digital and so much the military," Louie wrote. ""Our ability to sense, share, integrate, coordinate, and act will depend on maintaining digital superiority over our adversaries. Digital dominance means finding ways to collect, transform and process more efficiently than our adversaries."

I could not have said it better. We have for many years focused blindly on the acquisition of ever more data and not nearly enough on developing coherent systems for analyzing that data, gleaning from it the nuggets of knowledge and wisdom that often get lost. We are as a nation in both the public and private sphere drowning in more information than we know what to do with. This is a critical error that threatens to compromise national defense as well as our economy.

Louie throws a spotlight on the vital role of software that drives our military systems and platforms. Software is not as exciting as aircraft and drones, but it is the straw that stirs the drink. "As with software, new systems are highly dependent on data quality, consistency, and concurrency," Louie wrote. He points out also that the younger generation is "digitally plugged-in" meaning we must develop new concepts of operations, tactics and strategies that will give them the edge they need. "They will not fight the way previous generations have fought," he said. "Their methods will be more collaborative, integrated, and coordinated. Their demands for intelligence will be significantly higher and the consumers of that intelligence will reach down to the lowest ranks of the command."

Our enemies cannot compete with us today in battlefield technology, so Louie says they are "leveraging the digital domain and in many areas, especially in the use of digital and social media for influence and recruitment, have demonstrated superior digital skills and tactics than we have." We can beat them at this game, but first we must recognize its importance.

Louie is onto something big and Mattis is just the kind of independent thinker who can recognize the importance of this message and act on it. Just as Trump sat down with major tech CEOs, Mattis should sit down with Louie and others on the cutting edge of digital technology.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.