Over the past two decades a number of advances have been made in the use of radar systems for the measurement of ocean waves, building on early work at universities and the Naval Research Lab (NRL) to investigate the potential for extracting wave field measurements from the sea clutter seen in shipboard radar images. This early work was the foundation for modern wave radar systems, with hardware systems ranging from commercial off the shelf (COTS) incoherent navigation radar to specially developed, calibrated, coherent instrumentation radar and phased-array systems. Software algorithms and image analysis techniques have also been in constant development, which have evolved from 2D analysis of digitized images into modern techniques performing real-time 3D transformation of high resolution images. Most of these systems are being utilized to measure the directional wave spectra, with some systems also providing wave height estimates and sea surface elevation maps. More recently, the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) and others have begun to utilize these techniques for shipboard measurement of open ocean waves. All these efforts have led to higher fidelity data, as well as data that were previously unobtainable. In this paper we provide an overview and history of the development of COTS incoherent wave radar systems, analysis techniques, and capabilities, from early characterization of sea clutter return to the latest developments in image inversion and sea surface topography. This review and summary provides a foundation on which to develop analysis techniques for the higher fidelity data, using lessons learned to improve future analysis. While not intending to be exhaustive, this paper seeks to highlight the insights gained from both historical and recent applications of these techniques, as well as the difficulties and issues associated with shipboard measurements such as ship motion, logistical constraints, and environmental factors.

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