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

The Soteria consortium will replace the service’s ageing 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 the UK’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and civilian helicopters from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

UK Junior Defence Minister Quentin Davies said the entire fleet of modern helicopters, which are about 30% faster than the current Sea Kings, will 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 a much improved performance in severe winter conditions, thus providing the UK with an excellent search-and-rescue helicopter service with the ability to save lives well into the future,” Davies said.

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

The contract, for over 25 years, will be finalised and awarded later in 2010 and Soteria will begin operation from 2012.