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High-frequency surface-wave (HFSW) radars are usually used to remotely measure oceanographic parameters. These systems can also potentially detect targets beyond the conventional microwave radar coverage. In this paper, the backscattered Doppler spectrum made up of the sea clutter, ship echoes, and the background noise has been modeled. Taking into account the propagation and the signal-processing effects, a range-Doppler image has been generated. This model can be used for different purposes like the (theoretical) evaluation of detection performance. This paper gives an overview of the theoretical elements for modeling the backscatter signal. The processing effects on the range-Doppler image and the time-evolving target signature are also introduced. Some of the simulated elements and the obtained range-Doppler images are compared with real data. Finally, from this model, the detection capabilities of HFSW radars are evaluated.