A consortium of private firms, including Thales, CHC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, has been awarded a new £6bn ($9.3bn) contract to take over the UK’s military-operated search and rescue helicopter service.

The Soteria consortium, which will take over the service, will replace the aging Sea King fleet with Sikorsky S92 helicopters to run the 24-hour service from 12 bases across the UK.

At present the service is run by Sea King helicopters from UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and civilian helicopters from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

UK Junior Defence Minister Quentin Davies said the entire fleet of modern helicopters, 30% faster than the current Sea Kings, would be able to attend low-level overland night-time incidents.

“They will have forward-looking infrared equipment and be fitted with fully integrated de-icing equipment for much improved performance in severe winter conditions,” he said.

“Thus providing the UK with an excellent search and rescue helicopter service with the ability to save lives well into the future.”

Soteria will provide the new aircraft to replace the aging military helicopters over a three-year period.

The 25-year contract will be finalised and awarded later in 2010 and Soteria will begin operations in 2012.