Raytheon Co. will lay off 37 employees -- or about 15 percent of its work force -- at its Towson plant because of a dearth in new military contracts, officials said today.

Workers at the plant, on Joppa Road, were notified of the furloughs Tuesday, said Janet Kopec, a Raytheon vice president. The layoffs take effect Dec. 6, with some employees being held over until next month, when work on their projects end.

"These layoffs had been put off since earlier this year," Kopec said. "We held off because we were anticipating other awards.

"They have not been awarded, so we felt there was a need to do this," she said.

About 900 people work at the Towson plant. They produce an electronic "friend or foe" aircraft-identification system that is used on military helicopters, as well as on some fighter planes and cargo planes.

The system seeks to avoid "friendly fire" accidents such as occurred over northern Iraq in 1994, when two U.S. jet fighters shot down two American Army helicopters, killing 26 crew members and passengers.

Kopec said the layoffs cut across all job categories at the plant, part of Raytheon's network-centric division. The unit has a total of 15,000 employees in five countries. Raytheon, based in Lexington, Mass., has 80,000 empolyees worldwide.

Because Raytheon is a military contractor, Kopec declined to be more specific about the Towson reductions or related separation services for employees. "In this climate, it's awkward to say," she said.

"You can only hold off laying off people while waiting for new contracts for so long," Kopec added. "We don't take this lightly."

The Towson plant is among more than 850 companies in Maryland that produce a variety of military hardware last year, according to U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency.

Maryland companies last year worked on military contracts valued at $8.8 billion, the agency said.

The state is fourth in the nation in terms of receiving prime contract money from the Pentagon, according to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

In 2000, the state received $5 billion in awards for major weapon systems last year.