This paper presents a model-based approach to mine detection and classification by use of sidescan sonar. Advances in autonomous underwater vehicle technology have increased the interest in automatic target recognition systems in an effort to automate a process that is currently carried out by a human operator. Current automated systems generally require training and thus produce poor results when the test data set is different from the training set. This has led to research into unsupervised systems, which are able to cope with the large variability in conditions and terrains seen in sidescan imagery. The system presented in this paper first detects possible minelike objects using a Markov random field model, which operates well on noisy images, such as sidescan, and allows a priori information to be included through the use of priors. The highlight and shadow regions of the object are then extracted with a cooperating statistical snake, which assumes these regions are statistically separate from the background. Finally, a classification decision is made using Dempster-Shafer theory, where the extracted features are compared with synthetic realizations generated with a sidescan sonar simulator model. Results for the entire process are shown on real sidescan sonar data. Similarities between the sidescan sonar and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging processes ensure that the approach outlined here could be made applied to SAR image analysis. © 2004 Optical Society of America.