We prove that for gray-level or binarized synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images with enhanced scattering centers, the DC-blocked phase-only filter is the optimal, as well as the most practical, solution for SAR image recognition. Our correlation algorithm, which employs various power laws to enhance the scattering centers, was examined for images with different complexity using the moving and stationary target acquisitions and recognition (MSTAR) data base. For standard recognition problems, which represent 95% of the cases (intermediate level of noise and sufficient number of scattering centers on the target), we found that our proposed approach improves the correlation even when utilizing binary templates extracted from the region of interest and binary inputs. For more complex problems (representing nearly 5% of the cases), a further improvement in our correlation recognition approach is needed. © 2001 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.