The main purpose of the work presented here is to study the potential for an active imaging system for target recognition at long distances. This work is motivated by the fact that there are a number of outdoor imaging needs where conventional passive electro optical (EO) and infrared (IR) imaging systems are limited due to lack of photons, disturbing background, obscurants or bad weather. With a pulsed illuminating source, several of these problems are overcome. Using a laser for target illumination, target recognition at 10's of km can be achieved. Powerful diode pumped lasers and camera tubes with high spatial and time resolution will make this technique an interesting complement to passive EO imaging. Beside military applications, civilian applications of gated viewing for search and rescue, vehicle enhanced vision and other applications are in progress. To study the performance limitations of gated viewing systems due to camera, optics and the atmosphere an experimental system was developed. Measurements up to 10 km were made. The measurements were taken at the wavelength 532 nm. To extrapolate the results to future system performance at an eye safe wavelength, 1.5 micrometers nm, a theoretical performance model was developed. This model takes into account the camera and atmospheric influence on resolution and image quality, measured as a signal-to-noise-ratio, SNR. The result indicates turbulence influence, in agreement with the modeling. Different techniques were tested for image quality improvement and the best results were obtained by applying several processing techniques to the images. Moreover, the tests showed that turbulence seriously limits the resolution for horizontal paths close to the ground. A tactical system at 1.5 micrometers should have better performance than the used 532 nm in atmospheric-limited applications close to ground level. The potential to use existing laser range finders and the eye safety issue motivates the future use of 1.5 micrometers for gated viewing.© (2002) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.