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A long-range active thermal imaging system includes an electromagnetic radiation source in the range of from about 10 GHz to about 500 GHz; a beam controller for receiving and retransmitting the electromagnetic radiation in a desired direction toward and onto a surface of a target, thereby heating the target and producing an infrared radiation emission from the target surface; and an infrared imager, e.g. an infrared camera coupled to a processor and display, for receiving the target's infrared radiation emission and generating a thermal image of the target. The radiation source may be selected such that the radiation penetrates into the target to provide a thermal signature, e.g. from subsurface features or objects. The thermal signature exhibits rapid changes that can be monitored in real time. This may allow surface or subsurface details or objects to be detected that would not otherwise be apparent.