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Aiming at technical difficulties in feature extraction for the inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) target recognition, this paper imports the concept of visual perception and presents a novel method, which is based on the combination of non-negative sparse coding (NNSC) and linear discrimination optimization, to recognize targets in ISAR images. This method implements NNSC on the matrix constituted by the intensities of pixels in ISAR images for training, to obtain non-negative sparse bases which characterize sparse distribution of strong scattering centers. Then this paper chooses sparse bases via optimization criteria and calculates the corresponding non-negative sparse codes of both training and test images as the feature vectors, which are input into k neighbors classifier to realize recognition finally. The feasibility and robustness of the proposed method are proved by comparing with the template matching, principle component analysis (PCA) and nonnegative matrix factorization (NMF) via simulations.