Radar was developed secretly for military use by several nations in the period before and during World War II. A key development was the cavity magnetron in the UK, which allowed the creation of relatively small systems with sub-meter resolution. The term RADAR was coined in 1940 by the United States Navy as an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging or RAdio Direction And Ranging. The term radar has since entered English and other languages as a common noun, losing all capitalization.
The modern uses of radar are highly diverse, including air and terrestrial traffic control, radar astronomy, air-defence systems, antimissile systems, marine radars to locate landmarks and other ships, aircraft anticollision systems, ocean surveillance systems, outer space surveillance and rendezvous systems, meteorological precipitation monitoring, altimetry and flight control systems, guided missile target locating systems, ground-penetrating radar for geological observations, and range-controlled radar for public health surveillance. High tech radar systems are associated with digital signal processing, machine learning and are capable of extracting useful information from very high noise levels.
As early as 1886, German physicist Heinrich Hertz showed that radio waves could be reflected from solid objects. In 1895, Alexander Popov, a physics instructor at the Imperial Russian Navy school in Kronstadt, developed an apparatus using a coherer tube for detecting distant lightning strikes. The next year, he added a spark-gap transmitter. In 1897, while testing this equipment for communicating between two ships in the Baltic Sea, he took note of an interference beat caused by the passage of a third vessel. In his report, Popov wrote that this phenomenon might be used for detecting objects, but he did nothing more with this observation.
The German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer was the first to use radio waves to detect "the presence of distant metallic objects". In 1904, he demonstrated the feasibility of detecting a ship in dense fog, but not its distance from the transmitter. He obtained a patent for his detection device in April 1904 and later a patent for a related amendment for estimating the distance to the ship. He also got a British patent on September 23, 1904 for a full radar system, that he called a telemobiloscope. It operated on a 50 cm wavelength and the pulsed radar signal was created via a spark-gap. His system already used the classic antenna setup of horn antenna with parabolic reflector and was presented to German military officials in practical tests in Cologne and Rotterdam harbour but was rejected.