General James Mattis has a "deep understanding" of the military culture shared by the United States and the UK, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said as he congratulated the nominee.
Nicknamed Mad Dog Mattis, the 66-year-old has a distinguished service record and retired in 2013 from the Marine Corps.
But he was criticised in 2005 when he declared it was "fun to shoot some people" and fighting was "a hell of a hoot".
President-elect Trump's nomination, however, will need to win approval in Congress through legislation by-passing a law that bars retired military officers from becoming defence secretary within seven years of leaving active duty.
Sir Michael said: "I congratulate General James Mattis on his nomination and wish him well with the confirmation process.
"He has a deep understanding of our shared military culture as well as experience of serving alongside British forces. The US is and will remain our closest partner on security and defence.
"I look forward to continuing our close cooperation to fight terrorism, deter aggression, and collaborate on innovative technologies to ensure the security of our nations."