Full order Stokes polarimeters are often composed of an analyzer consisting of a rotating quarter wave plate in front of a horizontal polarizer. A number of measurements are then made with the wave-plate oriented at different angle. The four-element Stokes vector is then computed from a linear combination of these measurements. A disadvantage of this device is that only a limited range of analyzer states can be generated. As a result a large number of measurements may be required to reduce the noise gain in the Stokes vector reconstructor. In this paper we describe a polarimeter based on a linear polarizer and two variable wave plates. It can be shown that such a device can produce an arbitrary polarization state. An active polarimeter consists of a generator stage, which transmits a laser illuminator with different polarization states and a receiver with a polarization analyzer stage. In our system both generator and analyzer stages consist of a horizontal polarizer and two variable wave-plates. A sixteen element Mueller matrix of resolved images is then formed for target characterization.© (2003) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.